The Virus part 3: Secrets

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“You know, you might be the key humanity’s survival,” said June.

Nate licked his plate clean. “You should’ve been a chef. That was amazing.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Of course I’m the key. Don’t you think I know that?” spat Nate.

“Then go to authorities. Let them figure out why you’re immune,” urged June.

“And have them treat me like some kind of lab rat? No thanks.”

“You owe it to humanity…”

Nate threw his plate against the wall, narrowly missing June’s head. Shards ricocheted on her neck and back.

“I owe humanity? Humanity owes me! I’m the healthy one. I’m the one that’s gonna survive. As far as I’m concerned, I AM humanity,” shouted Nate.

June marveled at the hardness in Nate’s eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What?” demanded Nate.

“How did you get so selfish?”

Nate leaned back in his chair and laughed. “And you aren’t? The only reason you stay with me is the hope I might save your life. You’re not here because you care anything about me.”

His proclamation made June recoil. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Her thoughts drifted back to the basement where she found him. Seeing someone so healthy gave her hope. Maybe he got sick and recovered. Maybe something within him could somehow rub off on her. She had to know if he could make her well. Did that make her selfish? June shook her head. She couldn’t believe they were anything alike.

“If I tell the police,” she said with a chill in her voice, “they’ll drag you away and you’ll never see the light of day again. Don’t think for a second they won’t sacrifice your life to save the world. They’ll cut you into little pieces until they find a cure.”

She smiled when a tear rolled down his flushed cheek.

“Or,” she continued, “I’ll cook for you and keep your secret.”

Nate sniffled. “What’s the catch? I let you stay with me and we rebuild the world together? I don’t think so.” He washed his hands at the sink before sitting back down at the table.

“If something doesn’t happen soon, you’ll be the only one left,” warned June.

“Because I won’t help you,” said Nate.

The words spoken out loud caused a sneer to form across June’s thin, cracked lips.

“You thought you could manipulate me, but you can’t. I can wait you out. Time is on my side,” declared a triumphant Nate.

A long sigh left June with a pain in her chest. “I thought we could help each other,” mumbled June.

“We are,” said Nate. He reached across the table and caressed her concave cheek. “I give you purpose by serving me. Isn’t that better than just waiting to die?”

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The Virus part 2: Alone

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The two sat down at the kitchen table. June watched longingly as Nate took up his eating utensils and examined his lunchtime fare. He poked at the meatloaf and frowned.

 

“Know what I’m in the mood for? Pizza,” he declared.

 

“We don’t have any,” replied June. Her elbows were on the table so she could hold up her head in her hands.

 

“Why not? You could get some.”

 

June sighed. “I don’t feel well enough.”

 

Nate rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” He shoveled a fork full of food into his mouth.

 

Watching Nate eat made June’s stomach churn. It was bad enough not being able to eat. It was even worse seeing Nate so healthy. If God was out there, June wanted to know why he would save this spoiled brat while billions of good people suffered.

 

A piece of meatloaf stuck to Nate’s cheek as he let out a robust belch. “I hope it tasted as good coming up as it did going down. Not like you’d know,” laughed Nate.

 

June glared at her next-door neighbour.

 

She arrived at Nate’s door ten days ago after losing the last of her family. When the pandemic hit, she watched everyone she loved get sick. It took all her strength to bury the withered bodies in the back yard. She went to bed and slept, believing she would join her family. Her eyes opened thirty-six hours later to an empty house. She cried for an hour.

 

June didn’t know what made her knock at Nate’s door. She just knew she couldn’t go back to her empty old house. When no one answered, she forced her way in. She discovered Nate in the basement protecting a box of breakfast cereal. His cheeks were plump and rosy.

 

“You’re not sick,” she said.

 

“So?”

 

“Why aren’t you sick? The whole world’s dying,” demanded June.

 

“None of your business.”

 

“Where’s Maryanne, your mom and dad?” she asked.

 

Tears filled his eyes. “They didn’t make it. I’m all that’s left.”

 

In her state of starvation, it took longer to reason things out. “Wait. You’ve been exposed, but you’re not infected. How is that possible?”

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The Virus part 1: The Food Source

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The overcast sky seemed to reflect the mood of the entire world. Nate counted the raindrops on the window pane. He smiled when a heavy droplet of water streamed down, gathering others in its path, and rushed down to the window sill.

 

June knocked on Nate’s door before entering. “Am I interrupting something?” she asked.

 

“No,” he replied.

 

“Are you hungry? I made lunch,” said June.

 

The announcement made Nate jump to his feet. “Awesome. I’m starving.” He looked at June sheepishly when he realized what he’d done. He noticed the protruding bones on her shoulders and arms.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said,

 

June glared back at him. “Are you really?”

 

Anger flashed in Nate’s eyes. “I didn’t make this happen, so why should I feel guilty?”

 

June shook her head. “Maybe because you can do something about it.” The intensity of her stare broke through Nate’s defenses and he looked away in shame.

 

“C’mon. Since you’re the only one who can eat, you might as well,” said June.

 

It had been thirty days since the plague crippled the globe. What added terror to the pandemic was that people didn’t get sick in any traditional way. There were no symptoms like sore throats, coughing or vomiting. People simply lost the ability to digest food.

 

Millions died in the first week. When people panicked and gorged themselves, they discover that instead of sustenance, food became a poison.

 

At week four, scientists discovered the cause was a virus. They scrambled to find a cure before they were too weak to work.

 

As the world around them collapsed, Nate found himself as hungry as ever, and able to eat. June tried to infect herself with his germs, but to no avail. Nate grew smug with each passing day. He told June that he must be a superior form of humanity.

 

After one evening of Roman debauchery, Nate threw up his entire meal and ate another full supper. In an act of desperation, June gathered up Nate’s partially digested food and ate it. She reasoned that if she didn’t gain his immunity, at least she wouldn’t have to endure his arrogance.

 

She lived. June quickly discovered that the vomit didn’t heal her of the virus. Something in Nate’s body altered the food and made it possible for her to digest. As soon as Nate learned of June’s discovery, he went into total seclusion. He’d rather die that serve as June’s food source.

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Pandemic in the Springtime

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The long winter left everyone eager to shed their hibernation. Then came the pandemic. Two weeks after the government encouraged its citizens to self-isolate, Jeremy felt claustrophobic. The warming weather only heightened his restlessness.

 

On a beautiful sundrenched Tuesday morning Jeremy laced up his boots and abandoned his winter den to take a walk around the park. Shoots of early Spring flowers burst from gardens throughout the neighbourhood.

 

In his haste to embrace the outdoors, Jeremy neglected to remember that along with the warm weather came pollen. Five minutes into his walk he felt a tickle in the back of his throat.

 

Half a block away two mothers pushing strollers approached. The last thing Jeremy wanted to was cough in front of them. Given the circumstances, they’d certainly conclude he had COVID-19. As they neared, Jeremy supressed a sneeze. As they were about to pass, he held his breath. This lasted two strides beyond them, when he broke out into a loud coughing fit. He glanced back to see two horrified, condemning glares back at him.

 

Jeremy gathered himself and continued on his way. He wondered how the world had come to this.

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Poke the Bear

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The ends of Corey’s lips curled into a sly grin and he flashed Nicki a wink.

 

“Know what I love?” Corey asked to no one in particular. “Home delivery. I can sit on the couch an order anything I want. Literally anything. It’s the best thing ever. I was even thinking of make it a New Years resolution to never leave my house again.”

 

The air was instantly sucked from the room. Everyone fixed their eyes on Linda. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes narrowed into a menacing glare pointed at Corey.

 

“Home delivery is a scourge on society,” she grumbled. “And we’re all going to hell-in-a-handbasket because of it.”

 

“That may be true, but you can’t beat the convenience, am I right?” countered Corey.

 

A wide-eyed Nicki turned to Corey. “Why?” she mouthed.

 

“Convenience? At what cost? The complete absence of any meaningful social interaction, not to mention the rising cost of health care due to growing obesity because no one ever leaves their couches,” ranted Linda.

 

“That’s not true at all. People get off their couches to go to the front door and have a meaningful social interaction with the delivery driver,” said Corey.

 

“That doesn’t count!”

 

Corey laughed. “It’s the wave of the future. It’s not my fault some people can’t handle change.”

 

“It’s about destroying the future,” concluded Linda.

 

“I’m sure the dinosaurs said that about mammals, too,” quipped Corey.

 

Linda shot icy daggers from her eyes as a chill settled over the room. The silence was broken by the dinging of the doorbell.

 

“Pizza’s here,” announced Corey.

 

“I’ll get it. It’s time I got some meaningful social interaction,” sneered Linda.

 

Corey smiled as Linda answered the door. He leaned over to Nicki and whispered. “And that’s how you get someone to pay for the food.”

 

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Symbiosis

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Cory was over at his buddy’s place to watch football. Midway through the first quarter, the family terrier hopped up on Jason’s lap and vigorously licked the inside of his ear.

 

“Ew! Gross. Why do you let him do that?” complained Cory.

 

“He likes the taste and it keeps my ears clean. His little tongue is amazing. It really gets in there,” replied Jason.

 

The expression of horror on Cory’s face reflected the unsatisfactory nature of Jason’s explanation.

 

“The animal kingdom is filled with relationships like these. Some small birds clean the teeth of alligators. Remoras clean the skins of sharks. Sometimes I’ll even let him clean out my nostrils, especially when I have a cold,” explained Jason.

 

As Jason spoke, Cory lifted a potato chip to his mouth, gave a dry heave, then set it back down.

 

“If you think about it, it’s the most natural thing in the world,” added Jason.

 

“Dude,” groaned Cory, “I’d rather not think about that, thanks.”

 

Jason shrugged. “Don’t knock it ‘til you tried it.”

 

“Not only will I not try it,” grumbled Cory, “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to scrub the image from my brain.”

 

“Your loss,” said Jason. His dog moved to the other ear and dug in.

 

Cory leaned back in the couch and sighed. “I need some normal friends. Dog people are so weird.”

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Stomach Trouble

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Tyler sat back in his chair and let out a profound belch. A head poked over his cubicle wall.

 

“You alright?” asked Marion.

 

“My stomach feels off,” admitted Tyler.

 

All around him, heads popped up like prairie dogs on alert.

 

“You’re not gonna throw up, are you?”

 

“Is it flu? You’ve had the flu shot, haven’t you?”

 

“It might be stress.”

 

“Maybe it’s an ulcer.”

 

“My cousin’s husband had indigestion. It turned out to be a ruptured appendix.”

 

“When my grandpa had his heart attack, his first symptom was an upset stomach.”

 

“Have you considered FODMAPs? It could be carbohydrate chains that are resistant to digestion.”

 

“What did you eat? It could be a food allergy you weren’t aware of.”

 

“I heard that people can develop allergies in adulthood. Some can be fatal and you don’t know it until its too late.”

 

“Don’t rule out salmonella or e coli. Restaurant kitchens are cesspools of bacteria and disease.”

 

Tyler listened in horror to everything being said. Marion shook her head in dismay.

 

“Don’t listen to these hypochondriacs,” she said.

 

“You know, with all the things that can go wrong,” mused Tyler, “It’s a miracle we’re ever really healthy.”

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