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Author's Note: The following contains depictions of suicide.

“Tell me a story.”

I rolled my eyes. My husband was busy in the bedroom, packing. “I can’t right now,” I replied. “There’s no way I can think with everything that’s been happening.”

“Oh come on, I love your stories,” he said. “It’d help you relax?”

I sighed, closing my eyes so that all I could hear was the sound of him humming to himself as he tossed clothes into his suitcase, and the concise babbling of Majorie Clare on the news. “I just can’t right now. I’m sorry.” The remote clutched in my hand, I glanced back at the television. Majorie Clare was standing on the Oak River bridge, dressed in immaculate pink as the gray wind whipped her hair. “Did you hear?” I called. “They’re calling it the Dirge now. They say it starts out as black patches on the skin, and then the victims start hearing this sort of low tone in their heads, right before the end. They don’t know how it spreads, but they’ve already quarantined a few neighborhoods.”

“Honey, can you please turn that off? You’re stressing yourself out.”

“No! This could be important!”

“At least tell me you’re all packed.” He carried his suitcase over to the entryway of the apartment, dropping it next to mine by the door.

“Yes. I’m packed.”

Majorie Clare was saying something about how grateful she was for her viewers, and how much she loved this city. My husband crossed his arms, squinting at me. Then he walked over and placed his hands on my shoulders. “It’s going to be fine. I promise. We have a plan, yeah? We’re going to go up to the cabin, spend some couples time together…” He moved his hands seductively down my sides. I scoffed. “And we’re going to wait for this whole mystery disease thing to blow over. Alright?”

I looked down, fidgeting with the remote.


“Alright! Alright.”

And then Majorie Clare waved to the camera with a million-dollar smile, and jumped off the Oak River bridge.


“Yeah. We’re definitely not the only ones taking a vacation today.”

I was gripping onto the dashboard, the car slowly lurching forward down the congested streets. “God, we’ve lived here for years and I have never seen traffic like this.” There were people packing the sidewalks, too, many of them carrying overstuffed backpacks and suitcases.

“They’re scared. It’s understandable. It should clear up once we’re out of the city.”

“Ugh, how can you be so calm right now? How are you not panicking?”

“I’ve had years of practice being married to you?” He grinned. I hit him in the leg and he flinched. “Ow. Hey.”

“That’s not funny. I’m scared, too.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Hey, come here…” The car was stopped anyway, so he reached over and curled his arm around my shoulders, drawing me in against him. “Just relax. I’m here. We’re going to handle this together, just like we’ve handled everything else. You and me? We’re tough.”

I grumbled. I didn’t feel tough, but I wanted to. So I leaned my head against him, feeling his familiar sturdiness, and I closed my eyes, listening to him humming. I thought I recognized the song, but I couldn’t place it.

“Can you tell me a story now?” he asked.

“Sorry… Sorry, I’m just not in the mood.”


A thump jolted me awake. I sat upright in the car seat. There was a man standing outside the passenger window, staring at me, with blood running down his face. He drew back, and then slammed his head against the glass again, causing it to warp. I yelled, pushing away from the door and against my husband, who was gripping tightly onto the steering wheel.

“What’s happening?!”

“Uh. There’s some people protesting.”

Beyond the man outside the window I saw dozens of other people. Some of them were holding signs. Others were holding bricks, or bottles. Ahead, I could make out the shapes of riot police, but they weren’t in formation. They’d already been overwhelmed. The man in the window just kept staring at me.

There was smoke behind him, curling in gray tendrils through the crowd.

“... Is that building on fire?” I asked.

Before my husband could answer, a bottle smashed against the windshield. We both jumped. Some men approached the car ahead of us, bashing in the windows with bats. They reached inside, grabbing the passengers and dragging them, flailing and screaming, out onto the sidewalk.

“We need to get out of here!” I shouted. “We need to go NOW!”

“Yep,” my husband said. He stomped his foot down on the gas pedal, steering hard onto the sidewalk. Most of the people scattered, but someone got rolled up over the windshield. One of the rear windows exploded inwards with a bang. He didn’t stop.


“End of the line.”

“No no no! Come ON!” I was breathing heavily, hunched over the dashboard. My face was stained with dried salt. But it was no use. Traffic was stopped dead, and there was no way around the mess of cars clogging the Oak River bridge. The announcer on the radio was tinnily telling listeners to remain calm.

“Hey, we technically made it out of the city,” my husband said. His hand was on my back, moving gently up and down. I pushed it away.

“Why are you acting like this?” I asked.

He frowned. “Like what?”

“Like things are ok! Haven’t you been hearing what they’re saying on the radio? People are dying! They don’t have a cure for it! Oh god!” I clutched my fingers into my hair, curling down into myself, gasping.

“We just need to get to the cabin,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of food there. Everything will make sense once we get there, I promise.”

“HOW?!” I slammed my palms down on the dashboard. “How are we going to get to the cabin?! We can’t drive! The bridge is completely blocked!”

My husband began unclasping his seatbelt. “We’ll walk.” He opened the door, stepping out of the car.

I blinked at him. “But it’s miles away.”

“Do you want to stay here?”

I closed my eyes. I breathed in, slow. He was right, and I knew he was right. I reached out and I opened the door, feeling the cold wind wash over me. The radio was mentioning infections in other cities around the world. I turned it off. Then I stepped out, going around to the back of the car to help with the suitcases. “I’m sorry,” I said. He handed me mine. “I’m panicking. I don’t know what to do. You don’t deserve this.”

“It’s ok,” he said, closing the trunk. He looked over the car like he was saying goodbye. Our car. “I think you’re allowed to panic today. Let’s get to the cabin though.”

I pulled my scarf up over my mouth as we joined the crowd of people walking away from the city, following the line of abandoned cars. We passed the spot where Majorie Clare had jumped. I tried not to touch anyone.

My husband was humming again. I was kind of getting tired of that song.


Sometime after sundown, the sky lit up with the roar of jet engines. A squadron of fighter planes screamed overhead. Then, flashes in the city behind us. It took a moment for the booms of the explosions to reach us. Around us, people started shouting in alarm, and then wailing with dismay. I stared at the blooming lights, stumbling against my husband’s chest.

“Our apartment,” I said. And I felt guilty, because people were dying.

He curled his arms around me, tightly. “We need to keep walking,” he said.


Dawn dragged across the sky, bringing with it a heavy fog. My feet had gone numb, and my throat was so parched it felt brittle. The suitcase scraped along the pavement behind me. By now, we had passed the cars, and were out on the open highway. The people had become more sparse, too, swallowed up by the swirling clouds of gray.

My husband was walking ahead of me, still humming that song as he trudged along. He’d been humming it all night - the same tune, over and over again. I was clinging on to the handle of his backpack, not wanting to lose sight of him in the fog. But, with each step, that song ground raw like sandpaper into the inside of my skull.

“Stop!” I shouted, finally.

“Huh?” He stopped walking, turning back to look at me. “What’s wrong?”

I came to a halt too, and the lack of movement caught up with me like a wave. “I’m sorry,” I panted, “but can you please stop humming? It’s really… really getting on my nerves. I know it’s a… a nothing, but…”

He furrowed his brow. “Honey, I’m not humming.”

“Yes you are. You’ve been doing it since we left.”

“I’m not, though,” he said. He released his suitcase, stepping back over to me and squinting.

“What?” I protested. “Why are you arguing with me about this? Just please stop humming.”

A look of agony slowly cracked over his face, and he reached out, curling his arms around me and drawing me against him. I saw tears forming in his eyes.

“What’s going on?” I asked him. For some reason, I felt something sinking deep inside me. “What’s happening?!”

He was clutching me tightly, his body starting to shake. “Can you hear it now?” he asked. “The humming. Can you still hear it?”

I listened. And I could.

A low, deep tone, coming from everywhere and nowhere. Pulsing and groaning, quiet and relentless. Like a funeral dirge.

My breath drew in sharply, and my legs went slack. I slumped against him, caught up in his arms as sobs burst from his body.

“I’m so sorry,” he was saying. Tears landed on my neck. “I was going to tell you when we were at the cabin, when things were less chaotic. But…”

“You knew…?” I asked, my voice rising out of me in a daze.

He nodded. He lifted his hands to the sides of my head, looking me in the eyes. “I saw a… I found a black spot, on the back of your neck, last morning before we started packing. I didn’t want to scare you… not until we were somewhere safe. I didn’t know things would get this bad, I’m so sorry.”

He clutched me to him again, and we held each other for a while on the side of the road.

I listened to my head sing.


I don’t know if it was actually quiet on the road through the woods to the cabin, or if I just couldn’t hear anything over the humming. It had a cadence to it. A melody. Like it was welling up from the depths of the earth. An icy tide, rising in a freezing rhythm through my body. Occasionally, I’d reach my hand up to the back of my neck. It felt smoother than usual.

We’d left the suitcases behind on the highway. There was no need to take them now. All that mattered was getting our bodies up to the cabin.

“Oh,” my husband said suddenly, stopping.

I paused too, looking wearily up the hill to where he was standing. The sunlight was behind him, framing him within the evergreen branches of the trees.

“I hear it,” he said. He frowned. “It’s kind of pretty.”


“You should have left me. Maybe you could have saved yourself.”

“Nah,” my husband said, sitting down next to me on the bench overlooking the lake. “I was ride-or-die from the moment I met you. Did you really think some plague was going to get you off the hook?” He offered me a glass of wine, and I accepted. “Besides, I don’t think there’s any getting away from this one. You heard the radio.”

It was true. The radio we’d found at the cabin wasn’t playing news anymore, just the same message of warning over and over again. We’d shut it off after not too long.

“Do you really think this is it? For all of us?”

He shrugged, looking out across the lake. “Could be. I guess the rest of the planet will be fine. Better, probably. We had a good run.”

I held his hand in mine. The weight of him against me was a solid, unwavering thing. “I would have stayed for you too,” I said.

“I know,” he said.


“Hey. Can you tell me a story?”

I looked over to him, my eyebrows raised. The sunset had turned his skin golden. “Now?”

“It’s the one thing I want. More than anything in the world.”

I smiled.

And I told him a story.

January 15, 2020 00:30

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1 comment

Amelia Coulon
21:22 Jan 22, 2020

Well done. Characters are real and believable. Hook is unexpected. Relationship is sweet, but not sappy. All around great story.


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