The picture to the left and the words "Pandemic",
"Sanctuary," and "Spy" needed to be used to write a 2000 word or less story in sixty hours the weekend of May 14 - 16.
I ran. My pursuer growled as he chased me, and this fueled my panic as I crashed through the undergrowth. There wasn't enough air to keep me from wheezing, and a stitch in my side burn hotter every step - at least until a tree root tripped me. I landed with a bone jarring impact, but it was soon forgotten when gray fur and sharp teeth boiled over me -
My scream still echoed in my ears as I sat upright amidst tangled sweat-soaked blankets. No neighbors shouted for me to keep it down, and only a full moon stared at me in disapproval. Moonlight or not, the hand that reached for a flashlight trembled in time with my still galloping pulse.
It was silly, I knew I was alone, but I still arched the light into every corner of the room, especially the ones were the sterile glow of the moon didn't reach. Spit dried in my mouth as the beam hit the bulletin board. It was the photo that did me in: a boy on a bike forever captured as he hung in mid-air. An image from before, one happy memory worn at curled, coffee-stained edges, half hidden among leaflets about disease prevention and flyers promising safe harbors.
Slipping out of bed I loosened a mirthless bark of laughter as I thought about that dull tease - sanctuary. Those flyers were old, all from the early days of the disaster. Sanctuary had been one of the first casualties of the blight.
As I stood there and contemplated hard liquor, it had been 270 days since the lupine flu had been discovered, and 241 days since it had been declared a pandemic by newscasters whose doll-like masks of nonchalance had begun to slip with a wildness about the eyes. One had to wonder how many of them were out there now, no longer constrained by studios or uniformly hideous hairstyles.
People, if they'd still dare to emerge from their hidey holes to converse, would have argued about precisely when humanity had teetered at the blink before going over in an Alice-like freefall into utter chaos. Part of this stemmed just from no longer having the primetime lineup to fix internal calendars to, but the rest was because we'd each descended into a private hell on our own schedule.
For me, it had been 63 days.
- Mom and Dad no longer kept up any pretense of being able to stand each other's company by the time the contest rolled around, so I'd been sent as family representative 275 days ago, accompanying Max as he competed in Paris. The appeal of BMX biking was beyond me, but that didn't stop me from cheering myself hoarse. Max won his class and the trip took on the air of a wholesome family film about trying one's hardest and being rewarded for it.
We didn't even realize anything was wrong until we got off the plane at Logan airport six days after we'd set out. Which isn't to say that the French media had covered things up, I simply didn't speak French. Instead Latin had fulfilled my college language requirement. Max used to tease me for not picking a more useful language, like his own barely passed high school Spanish, but the dead language had resonated with me. At the rate we're going, all of them will be dead soon...
Anyway, the airport. There hadn't been anyone there waiting. If you've ever been to Logan, you know it's usually teeming with frayed tempers and poor drivers, but no one greeted the new arrivals. I'd shivered taking in the tile and metal ghost town, at least until Max grabbed my arm and pointed at a TV that babbled on, unaware that it'd lacked an audience.
Men on screen howled as they were dragged to their execution by a foreign government. Given it was all going down in another language I didn't speak, I was grateful for a bulleted list that patiently explained that these were the men responsible for the theft, spies who'd broken into a lab and taken the first thing they could find that was valuable, dooming us all though no one had known it just yet -
A sound. I'd been pacing as my thoughts ran through the same worn grooves, but froze when I thought I heard something outside my apartment door...a canine snuffling, a doggy chuffing, a death threat. Neighbors might not have minded my scream, but had something else been listening? When it didn't repeat, I chanced moving to the chair, drawing up my knees as I sat, and wrapping my arms around them. It almost felt like a hug. Or I was forgetting what human contact was really like. Don't do, just think, I told myself, slipping back into the fractured past.
- Outside the airport there were signs of normalcy, taxis waiting. The driver of ours didn't speak as the tires ate the miles, and gave off the air of someone impatient to return to something more important. Through the windows of passing houses I saw entire families glued to TV sets, and worried about what had happened. What had the executed men done?
I think Max and I both expected our parents to stop fighting long enough to explain everything to us, but the house was empty when we finally got home. We checked every room. At last we discovered a note set on the table. All it said was, "Jessie, Max, take care of each other. Mom & Dad".
My brother's eyes had gone wide just then, and he looked to me for answers. I might have been an adult, twenty-five to his sixteen, but I felt no less Hansel and Gretel abandoned than he did. We never did see them again, and by day 94 we no longer expected to.
I have my theory, as grim as it is: they killed themselves before things got bad. It was a more logical explanation than thinking that a couple that couldn't go without bickering over breakfast had somehow decided to run away together. They'd both been government screws, and I'm sure they'd known which way the wind blew. Maybe I was wrong, and they were together somewhere, a cozy cabin, a white sand beach, laughing up their sleeves. But I doubted it.
Before newsmen no longer wore cheap suits, we all knew something about what happened. The lab those now headless spies had broken into in Babel had been birthed in the US before being outsourced like everything else. Bioweapon, a mistake, a plague waiting for just such an opportunity, no one knew that detail, but what followed? Yeah. Hard to escape that knowledge.
In the wake of the supposed swine flu the year before, preservationists prophylactically objected to the term lupine flu before the name even caught on, even with the clear presence of wolf in the deadly viral cocktail. Someone on talk radio jokingly dubbed it the "K-9 flu" and that's what stuck despite the minor inaccuracy. Back then it was almost funny, but that was when it seemed like the illness that the spies had unleashed was going to be combated with hand sanitizer, face masks (for the most paranoid of germaphobes), and that we'd tough it out as we waited to see how long companies took to produce a vaccine for this flu strain.
Of course, this was before anyone's neighbors grew excessively hairy and developed the disquieting propensity towards chasing prey by moonlight.
The first time Max and I saw the guy next door lope home with a bloodstained mouth (muzzle?) and glazed eyes was the last time either of us went anywhere on our own. Not that it helped in the end -
Snuffing again. Then scratching that reminded me of how joyfully our long dead husky has dug a labyrinth of holes in the backyard. If only it had been Blaze's ghost visiting me. My eyes flew to the door as I considered my options. A bat under my bed, pilfered from Max's little league days, and the gun, of course. I eyed the gun with a bitter resentment. It had been my grandfather's, but the silver bullets had not come with it. So, I'd covertly ordered some, but not covertly enough.
Would the door hold, I wondered as the scratching set up a tuneless percussion, long enough to grab the gun? It did, even though I nearly fumbled it. But then what? Shooting through the door would be foolish, weakening it. But how quickly could it burst though? They had a fluid grace, these wolves at my door. There was nothing to do but check that the gun was loaded. It was. I'd known that, but I'd still had to check. You understand.
- It had been Max's idea to keep moving, but I hadn't done that since ordering the bullets. Being nomadic had been a good strategy, as far as end of days planning went, but the only way to get the bullets was to freeze in place long enough for them to be delivered. And we did need them, that was becoming a surer necessity every day as wolves, wolves who used to be stockbrokers, housewives, and paper boys ripped through the populations of every town, both literally and blood-soaked, and in a figurative sense as the virus passed from person to person, or make that wolf to person...It was hard to know how many people shed their humanity every twenty-eight days because they still looked like us at times, but I think everyone got the sense that the world was drowning in fur, and we'd all soon be like them. Or dead.
People said, when people said anything, that silver bullets worked. But you couldn't pick them up at Wal-Mart or even a gun shop, as many as there still were scattered throughout the northeast. To get the bullets we'd had to order them through a mail-order company, and I more than half feared that a lupine mafia would get wind of our sin, and come for us.
In the end I lost Max to people, not to the wolves.
Turned out that the silver bullet seller's records had been compromised, supposedly without his knowledge or consent. It had been easy enough for the government to hack into things like that, especially with the Patriot Act, a declaration of martial law, the suspension of habeas corpus...we ordered bullets. They came for Max.
I guess they figured that anyone with the balls to hunt werewolves nee neighbors had balls enough to join the US military, even against their will, even if they were sixteen. I begged them to take me too, but lacking the necessary external gonads, they patted me on my pretty little head and promised me that he'd come home safe.
It's been 63 days, seven hours, and 26 minutes since then. And I'm here still, family to come home to. Please God, let him come home.
Behind the door the scratching became more frantic, and I knew that it was coming to a head. If I failed to act, Max would have nothing left, if he survived this unearthly draft. A sliver of wood gave way with a scream of protest, and through the jagged cut one xanthic eye gave me a baleful look, full of the promise of my red, wet death.
"We think the same things at the same time. We just can’t do anything about it." - Thom Yorke, Harrowdown Hill