Science Fiction Horror

By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Reds and golds everywhere. The most beautiful fall I had ever seen. It had been a week since I had been outdoors.

Everything started with the algae on the roads. Do you remember that? Big clumps of that filmy moss everywhere. It shut down traffic. Nobody could explain what was causing it or where it came from. It would tear up your tires. They said it was safe but I always coughed around it. The President came on and said, we'll spray for it, we'll take care of it, and they came around with the trucks and the thick green algae turned dark brown like leaves. They swept it off the roads. The trucks spent all summer spraying and sweeping it away. It was the hottest summer in a hundred years.

We tried to make a trip to northern Illinois through Champaign for fun that summer. Just outside of Bloomington, it got so bad that we couldn't drive. The cops were there on the road behind the sweeper trucks. They said, you've got to turn around. No driving on the interstate. We tried taking side roads but it was the same there. We turned around and came back home.

People started getting sick after that. Some people thought it was the plague, and other people thought it was a reaction to the spray they were using. Nobody could agree about it. It got really political. Everybody thought it was somebody else's fault. I heard about the outbreaks in Chicago first. They said, it's a virus, but it's just a city problem. Don't let it worry you. The director of the CDC came on TV and said it was going to be fine. I asked my doctor and he said the same thing. He said, it'll be over by the election. Also, they're going to have a plague vaccine in a few months. So just wash your hands. He was wearing a cloth mask. I asked him about it. You should wear one too, he said.

I was born with a disease called common variable immunodeficiency. It's never been a big deal. I get more colds than other people but I've never taken medication for it or had any problems. When I was a kid I had to take medicine for colds sometimes. As an adult, my doctor always said, take vitamin C, take elderberry. Let me know if you have any symptoms. I got an annual physical for work but that was about it. I have high cholesterol.

In the middle of October, when everything was still only happening in the cities, I got a call. And the voice said, just verifying. We have you on the registry as having an immune deficiency.

I said, yes that's true, I do have a immune deficiency. But it's mild and I didn't sign up for a registry. I thought maybe it was a scam. She was a pleasant lady. She said, don't worry, it's just the government keeping track. We're just tracking all the people with immune system problems. You don't have to worry. And I said, that's fine, let me know if there's anything I'm supposed to do. She said make sure and wear your cloth mask, and keep distant from people.

Then I got a letter in the mail. It said, call this number, verify your address, verify that you're on something called the “Immune Registry”. I didn't know what that was, so I called the number. It was a different lady, and she asked me where I lived. I told her, and I asked what all the calls were about. She said something about the census and the CDC. You don't have to worry, she said. She said, everything's fine, you just stay healthy until that vaccine comes out in a few months.

We kind of laughed about it. I liked her. I felt bad for somebody who had to work a job in a call center, phoning people late at night. We actually talked for a few minutes and she had a nice voice and she told me she worked there to make extra money for her three kids. I asked her if I needed to wear a special mask. She told me that cloth masks were fine.

About a month after that I was outside walking my dog and a man in a truck came by with some pamphlets. I thought at first it was the mailman. Then I recognized him. It was Larry Woodard, a local guy who I hadn't seen in awhile. We said hello. Then he said, I was gonna put these in the mailbox but I'll just hand them to you.

I asked him what he was up to and he said that he took a job working for the government after the mines laid him off. I asked him what the registry was about. He said the same thing as the lady on the phone had. He told me that it was related to the census.

Then I looked at the pamphlets. They said, “Voluntary Housing Information”.

I asked Larry what they were for.

“With the virus some people are choosing to live in FEMA camps in Hattiesburg. The elderly and people at risk,“ he said.

“FEMA, like emergency FEMA?” I said.

”Yeah, but it's not really like that. It's not a big deal,” he said, and laughed.

”It’s just government was just wasting money again. Pork barrel politics. The big hospitals have the big time lobbyists and they were looking to cash in on whatever this virus was. That's all there was to it. Typical Democrat Chicago bullshit,” he said. “Plague is all horseshit anyway.”

A little bit of that brown algae swept over the driveway again and we both sort of scraped it off our shoes without using our hands.

I said, “Do I have to do something?”.

He just laughed and said, this is just an option if you want it. People are all so paranoid. It'll be over by the election. It's all politics. And that seemed reasonable. I read through the pamphlets but I threw them away.

Just to be sure I did call and ask the doctor if I was supposed to be doing anything. And the nurse said, Dr Watson is busy, but are you taking elderberry and I said that I was. She said we've gotten a lot of calls and that's probably the best thing you can do. Wear a mask too, she said.

I went back in the house and shut the lights off. I wanted to enjoy being alone and relax for awhile. When I don't want to think about what's going on in the world I watch old black and whites. I love movies. Maybe the 1940s are my favorite, but I like everything. There's something about just sitting in the dark and being quiet that speaks to me. It's mostly a silent, quiet thing I do by myself. Almost like going to church. I'll get up in the morning and watch them before the day starts and that's the time for me. My job is in computers and I don't really like it. I have to sit at a screen all day and there's no drama. But if I can spend an hour with Cary Grant and My Favorite Wife, it's peace to me.

Not much happened for awhile. The Victory Theater was having an old run of black and white reprints. On a Saturday night in late November I drove out to that, going by myself as I always do, and on the way back there were police everywhere. They stopped me on Highway 142 and I assumed it was a DUI check, which I had seen in the cities. But it was unusual in a small town like ours.

The cop said, “We just want everyone to know they're entering a protected zone.” His lights were flashing. The air was frost cold. I wanted him to roll up the window quick because I could see my breath and I wasn't wearing gloves.

I asked what that meant. He said, “Nothing to worry about, it's just a voluntary quarantine.” I asked what for. He said, “It's that virus, between you and me I wouldn't worry much about it. The vaccine's coming soon but this is just for precautions.”

I asked him, “What am I being protected from?”

He said, “Are you on the registry?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well technically it's so nobody can get it from you. But again all voluntary. Like to let people make decisions on their own. Free country,” he said.

He handed me a different kind of respiratory mask.

“We're giving out these masks that are called N-37s. The one you've got, it's no good. Start wearing this one,” he said. It had a bigger front facing on it and latches on the sides. It looked like the face of an aphid I remembered in a science book in high school. I remembered being terrified in high school biology when I learned how ants would drain the juices from aphids, thousands at a time.

When I got home I got a call from Aunt Judy in Chicago and she told me that Uncle Bern had died, of what they weren't sure, definitely not the virus though. He had a lot of health problems but they weren't calling it plague virus for sure. It was sad because he had worked his whole life but he had hit the Medicare doughnut hole. Now the supplemental policy wasn't going to pay for anything. She said they might owe forty thousand. They were raising some money at a hot dog supper at the baptist church next week. But I wouldn't be able to come because they were being quarantined for the virus.

That night I woke up and I had yellow blisters on my right hand that hadn't been there before.

I called the emergency room. The nurse told me that they hadn't had many cases. And she said plague blisters were usually brown. Mine were yellow. But they couldn't be sure unless I came in.

I said, can you tell me how many cases there have been. She said, I can't do that. It's a privacy issue.

More than a dozen? I said.

She didn't answer. I asked, how transmissible is it?

“It's not really so contagious,” she said. “We take precautions here. You should be fine.”

She said everyone seemed worried. But the CDC and the government were doing a lot to help us. We had the best health care system in the world.

I looked at my brown blistered hand. I didn't sleep at all that night, and I didn't go in. Instead I stayed up and watched Suspicion with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine.

The internet told me that brown vesicles weren't anything. It said, maybe they were a sign of something else. Not the virus, but a bunch of other things.

When I called the doctor again they said, we can't let you in. You'll need to quarantine at home. It's not the virus but you'll need to quarantine at home.

They gave me a number at the health department that went straight to voicemail.

I called my work. They said, no problem, just come in when you feel better. Times are crazy. Your job will be waiting for you.

I have a lot of emergency supplies at my house. I planned to stay in for just a week. I watched the blisters on my hands dry up and drop off. Nothing on the internet seemed to be clear on what that meant.

When I left to go to work after a week the police met me on the highway.

“Do you know you're leaving the voluntary protection zone?” they said.

I said, “Am I allowed to do that?”

“It's a free country for sure,” said the cop. “You can do what you want, but we recommend you stay in place. There are more instructions coming from the government soon.”

They said that FEMA was starting to send people around with groceries and supplies and the government was paying for all of it. I got another mask from them and went back to my house and got into my pajamas.

That afternoon Larry was back and he was driving a meal truck, he said he didn't do pamphlets anymore but he was doing meal delivery and this paid better. I offered to have him come in and he said, no thanks, he actually stayed in his car. I told him it's not really contagious but he left quickly.

That next week I tried to leave on my own again. And the police officers were there.

“You can leave and we can't stop you but you need to get a swab first,” they said. “Also, you can't drive in the city any more. No cars.”

“Where do I get a swab?” I said.

“At least you're safe,” they said. “Did you hear about Chicago? At least you're in a zone. You don't even have to worry. And they're going to have a vaccine soon.”

They gave me the number to the health department, the same one that went to voice mail last time. When I told them, no one's answering this number, they said that we can't stop you from leaving. Everything is voluntary. They were wearing full body biohazard suits and breathing from ventilators that they wore on their backs. They told me not to worry, drive safely.

A week went by and I stayed home alone. Then finally I started to notice the leaves changing. I hadn't spoken to anyone. The leaves were on fire outside. I wanted to go walk in them.

I was tired of being there alone. I packed a few things, some water, granola bars.

It's a mile from my house to the movie theater I'm in decent shape. At the exit of my subdivision the police office was waiting. He stopped me, again.

He said, “You know we can't prevent you from leaving, it's a free country. But between you and me you'll die if you go, and you'll kill a lot of other people too.”

“What would you do?” I said. He looked exhausted. He told me he hadn't slept in a week. I asked him if he thought the N37 mask with the clasps would protect me. He looked at me from behind the space suit he was wearing.

The theater was dark and no one noticed me. I bought popcorn and snuck in my granola bar. I had a lovely evening watching Without Reservations with Cary Grant and Claudette Colbert. There was an old man in the front row and a couple behind me, kissing.

I had dinner by myself at a restaurant. I ordered everything on the menu. I ate until made myself sick. I ripped meat off the bone of my steak. When they brought me dessert I told them to bring me more. I ran my fingers through a chocolate mousse and ate with my hands.

By the time I left that night and walked home the vesicles were everywhere.

October 17, 2020 02:19

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