They said a cure was imminent. That was ten years ago.
Rotting bodies cover the road to work. A stream of yellow pus and bloody discharge from the contaminated corpses divides the street; it won’t be long until the drainage system is completely filled. Those superb draining vents, responsible for putting our metropolis on the map, will be reduced to nothing more than a bath of defecation and infection soon.
Only a couple thousand of us are left in the town, which doesn’t sound half-bad as long as the original population of 200 thousand isn’t considered. During year one of the plague, the typical conversation switched from “What size frizzolatte should I order?” to “Where the hell are all these bodies going to go?” Initially the deceased were buried, and when the cemeteries filled up, they were burned. Mass bonfires of forty to fifty bodies dotted every backyard and park for miles – the columns of smoke resembled gnarled fingers of Satan reaching from the bowels of Hell to crush the living. It wasn’t until half of the city was buried under a massive mound of ash that other means were considered.
“Penny.” A thick hand swallows my shoulder. “Lost in thought, I reckon?”
Oh, Roger, if you knew half of the stuff that frequented my thoughts, you wouldn’t want anything to do with me. “How else am I supposed to entertain myself?” Then, motioning toward the busted flat-screen television screen: “You ruined our one source of amusement in last week’s quarrel.”
The side of his upper lip curls inward and he huffs, “Once again, babe: not my fault. It was either going to be us or Charlie who got the last round of antibiotics, and with the little one on the way anything can happen.” He rubs my inflated stomach and smiles. “I’ll do anything for you.” His grin brightens the room, and for a second one would think that we’re both happy and that the land isn’t in turmoil.
“First you made me that elevated pair of rubber loafers, then I got that precious baby-doll gown that makes me look somewhat civilized, plus countless other things – and now you’re looking after my health. You’re making it increasingly difficult for me to find something for you.”
Roger plops down beside me on the flimsy couch he scavenged from a house a few doors down. “Babe, you’re giving me what can never be one-upped. This baby will change everything.”
He was right: our baby’s very existence will prove that even in an infected world, hope is alive – it only has to be sought. This next generation will be the one responsible for exterminating whatever has befallen most of the population, thus putting the human race back on top. I don’t know how, but health will be restored somehow, one day.
I reach in to kiss my husband, and I notice a peculiar node under his ear. “Roger, how long have you had that?”
“Had what, babe?”
That’s how it usually started, the infection. A hard bulge forms on a patch of exposed skin, appearing benign during the first couple days, but following the week after contact effects only become more severe. In a week, clusters of bulbous blisters form around the lump, flulike symptoms develop and the infected individual grows weary and exhausted. Within a few days, the colony of blisters continues to spread, but this time the heads of each swell up and turn white. Vomiting and dysphasia as well as hallucinations follow – the bile being infectious to anybody in contact. Within the third week, the white sacs atop the blisters turn yellow and burst from the slightest touch – from observation, most pop open due to the infected individual’s own movements. The pus only leads to more blisters and then comes discomfort in the eyes. By the fourth week, the virus has already won, with the host stuck in a seizure-like state. It only takes a few more hours for the seizures to stop and breathing to cease.
Before the realization struck that this virus was eventually going to lead to the dismantling of society, I worked as a nurse at the regional hospital. I never came in contact with patient zero – don’t know if there even was a patient zero – but I dealt with dozens of these cases, and they ended the same, tragic way. But this can’t happen to the love of my life. Not now.
I’m already bursting with tears, my emotion intensified by my hormonal imbalance. “Give me the medicine bag.”
Roger is dumbfounded. “Whoa, whoa! What’s going on?”
“With what you’ve been telling me, there should be enough in there to possible slow the rate of infection. Maybe it’ll buy us enough time to reach the city center – the more qualified doctors with experience with it might be able to help us.” I’m hysterical, my words rushed and mumbled. “Hell, if we can’t find a way to combat the virus after fifteen years, for God’s sake, what good is any of this? And fuck, I’m bringing a baby into this pathetic existence! I’m the monster!”
“Virus? Penny, you have to slow down. Take a breath, honey.”
Amidst a storm of conflicting emotions, I say, “It’s your neck; you’re infected.” I know I should be staying strong during Roger’s time of need, but I’m defeated. Without Roger, there’s no way my baby can make it. He’s always so brave, facing the odds on his scavenges for food and other necessities. Last night he went on a baby run and brought back loads of diapers and different colors of infant clothes. He has everything planned so immaculately, and now…
His hand discovers the node. “Shit. You said something about the center being able to help?”
“I don’t know, I just don’t know.”
A fire ignites in Roger’s eyes that I have never seen before. I know he’s about to do something completely reckless and selfless before the idea rolls off his tongue: “Then I’ll go, but you stay here. I’ll get Charlie to look after you. I know he’s still pissed at me, but he’ll do it.”
“Roger, let me –”
Before I finish, Roger kisses me, and time stops. He knows it’ll be a lost cause; his sister died of the damned virus before the world turned to shit. Although he wasn’t around to see the initial symptoms, he saw the last stages, and it forever changed him. And that’s not to mention the countless others he’s witnessed fall victim. There was no cure, or we would’ve heard about it by now.
On my lips, he mutters, “Stay strong, babe. I love you more than you will ever know.” Then he slips out the door and runs toward Charlie’s trailer.
I am slightly taken aback with his sudden urge to just disappear, but I know he’s only thinking about the baby. But that doesn’t make things any easier.
So I’m left all alone on the filthy couch, incapacitated because of the baby on board, hoping an enraged Charlie would happen to make an appearance. But I knew I had a greater chance of curing the damned plague myself than to ever be able to count on that man.
Looks like I better get to work.