January 17, 2006
Follow this link for Chapters 1 and 2, and don't forget the contest:
Suggest a title in the comments.
On the first of February, I'll pick a few of the best suggestions and we'll have a contest. The person who suggests the winning title will win a prize, and not just some California-style self-esteem-building touchy-feely crap either. I'm talking about a real hold-it-in-your-hand American icon of conspicuous commercialism.
It seemed like Saturday would never get here. Even though I saw Autumn every day at school, and had dinner with her and Mrs. Crisp every evening, our movie date was the first thought I had in the morning, and the thing I fell asleep thinking about at night.
I considered flowers again, since they had worked so well the first time, but after picking through my meager hoard of coins I realized that I had barely enough for tickets and popcorn, so I dropped that idea.
I spent a lot of time wondering if she would kiss me again. I spent almost as much time wondering if I could work up the nerve to kiss her.
Friday was a special day for Granddad, for it was time for his quarterly checkup. The government medical people who did this would pick him up just before full dark. They came in a truck marked with the name of a popular local restaurant that did business with Mrs. Crisp, which meant that the neighbors were used to seeing it, and in this way tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible. The doctors would run their tests and Granddad would be back Sunday evening.
We spent more than an hour getting Granddad cleaned up, and then another managing to put him into his travel suit. The travel suit was designed to immobilize him without damaging him. If zombies actually hurt, nobody had ever proven it. He was crabby and difficult, because he wasnÂ’t allowed to eat beforehand. It was hard going, but we managed to get him packaged up for his trip. When the medical team arrived, Mrs. Crisp introduced me and they carted Granddad out to the truck in a fake stack of boxes labeled Â“parsleyÃ¢Â€�, Â“basilÃ¢Â€�, and Â“rosemaryÃ¢Â€�.
Saturday dawned cold and calm. Mom finally lured me out of my warm bed with a bowl of oatmeal and honey. She wanted me to rake the last of the leaves from the yard today, and that was fine with me, because Autumn would be busy all day giving GranddadÂ’s space a good scrubbing. Once we were both done with our chores, the evening was ours.
As I ate, I sat across from our two current boarders. Mr. Brown was a disreputable sort, even as our boarders went. He kept late hours and came and went at odd times. I was pretty sure that he was behind on his rent, although Mom would go to great lengths to avoid turning anyone out into the street. He ignored me while reading our newspaper and sipping coffee. On the few occasions that he tried to interrogate, I mean, engage me in conversation, he seemed obsessively curious about the local people and doings. I thought he might be a thief, and if weÂ’d actually owned anything worth stealing, I wouldÂ’ve kept a closer eye on him.
On the other hand, I thought the world of Ms. Halliday. She was bright and cheerful and loud and outgoing, and made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Mr. Brown, which proved to me her good taste. All I really knew about her was that she had the most amazing British accent and could tell equally amazing stories at the drop of a hat. Some of her tales were a little bawdy, and sheÂ’d always give me an exaggerated wink when she launched into one of those. This morning, she too was absorbed by the news, although she flashed a brilliant smile at me when I got up from the table.
Outside, I tackled the fallen leftovers from summer. Working steadily, I filled up the firepit with the first big pile of leaves and then stood there warming my hands as they burned. From the street, I could hear some little kids playing and jumping rope, their voices carrying through the cold:
Â“Georgie fought an oil war,
Billy got his hummer,
Georgie boy went back for more,
Hillie was a bummer,
Ricey dicey Â‘gainst the wall,
Jimbo went and killed us all.Ã¢Â€�
I had to smile, because those kids had no idea just how succinctly they had summarized history before all hell broke loose.
Bird flu wasnÂ’t anything new or unexpected. The world was busy patting itself on the back for containing it, not recognizing that it wasnÂ’t beaten, it was merely simmering. It had also quietly become far more widespread than anyone realized. And then, as if by some secret signal, it reared up in a dozen different forms and proceeded to humble the Human race.
Even then, it might have been possible to contain the devastation to localized tragedies. Possible, except that when our government tried to limit travel, huge protests arose and politicians, seeing nothing beyond a chance to score political points, forced through laws that gutted our ability to self-quarantine. When it became apparent that the local transmission vector was limited to a relatively few species of birds (and one type of bat, which nobody can explain even to this day), the animal rights people joined forces with conservationists to fight all attempts to kill the birds to prevent more spread of the flu. Lawsuits were filed, organized protests mounted to save the Â“innocentÃ¢Â€� animals, and many people were thrown into jail for ignoring the environ-mentals and killing a few (or a few hundred or a few thousand) flu-carriers on their own.
As our history teacher put it, the activists were Â“full of themselvesÃ¢Â€� for having taken on and defeated the worldÂ’s governments. What they didnÂ’t foresee was that people, having grown tired of watching their loved ones die, would decide that not only was killing birds necessary, but that killing a few activists along the way probably wouldnÂ’t be a bad idea either.
It was a very bad time to be an environmentalist.
As more and more people succumbed to the flu, more and more survivors started hunting down activists. The activists responded by holding ever more massive protests, right up until the climax of the violence. In Amsterdam, thousands of conservationist demonstrators had gathered to protest the Dutch governmentÂ’s policies towards migrating seabirds. Without realizing that anything was going on, their escape routes were sealed off and then they were set upon by hundreds of anti-demonstrators. It was a bloody massacre. The police were held at bay when it was revealed that many of the killers were suffering from flu symptoms. While the authorities were trying to decide what to do, most of the surviving anti-demonstrators huddled together and mass-immolated while the world watched via satellite.
The entire world paused for a shocked moment and took a collective deep breath. Most of the protesters faded away, putting away their signs and causes and quietly getting back to their lives. The governments tried again to deal with the pandemic, although by now humanity was so weakened that at best they could only soften the impact, not shield the population.
Many countries ceased to exist. Many regions reverted to anarchy and chaos. What remained after the pandemic ran its course was left with a living standard of about a century before. Those were the fortunate survivors. WeÂ’ve clawed our way partway back since, but the most lasting impact might be that people are rarely openly political anymore. Secret votes became just that, and one just didnÂ’t ask another person what their opinion was on certain issues.
There are a lot less people in the world now, but more animals, so maybe the environ-mental-cases got the last laugh after all.
I burnt another pile of leaves and wondered if sometimes I didnÂ’t think too much.
At dinner, it was just me and Mom, which wasnÂ’t unusual. Mr. Brown often missed meals, and Ms. Halliday frequently had Â“social obligations to attend toÃ¢Â€�, as she put it. I knew Mom had entertaining to do that evening, so I wolfed down my food, cleaned up quickly and put on my best clothes (my best werenÂ’t all that good, but itÂ’s all relative) for my movie date with Autumn.
Walking to her house, I regretted not buying Autumn flowers again, for no other reason than that holding them would have given me something to do with my hands. I was a bundle of nerves and my mind was going a mile-a-minute, imagining snatches of conversation that we might have. Let me tell you, in my mind I was the original suave devil, cocksure about my ability to sweep any lady off her feet. You might have even seen it in my eyes, if you looked deep enough, past the panic. It helped if you could ignore my nervous sweaty brow too.
I paused at her corner of her street and took a deep calming breath. I did the same at her front gate, and again while standing on her porch, before ringing the bell. As I waited for the door to open, I was halfway through another when, suddenly and unbidden, a mental image of me hyperventilating and keeling over popped into my head.
Mrs. Crisp opened the door and stared oddly at me as I gasped and goggled about like a fish out of water. In seconds I was back under control and able to assure her that I was all right. She watched me carefully as I came in and sat down, pulling out my handkerchief to mop my brow. Noting my nervousness, Mrs. Crisp tried to calm me by remarking on how nice I looked. She also told me that Autumn would be down in a minute. I sat and tried not to tap my feet or wring my hands or be obvious about it.
I sprang to my feet when Autumn came down the stairs, and almost fell backwards again into the chair. She was beautiful, dressed in pale pastels that were ever so different from her normal darks and earth colors. Around her shoulders she wore a shawl the color of storm clouds just before a summertime downpour and in her hair she had pinned a single small spray of purple anemones (the ones IÂ’d given her must have long since died, so sheÂ’d gone out to get these). I suppose that we were both wildly overdressed for a mere movie date, but I wouldnÂ’t have changed a thing.
As I stood there, gawking like an idiot, I was barely aware of a knock at the door or of Mrs. Crisp moving to answer it. What finally shook me out of my dumbstruck was the furrowing of AutumnÂ’s brow as she looked past me at the doorway. I turned and saw the police at the door.
My mind was still three steps behind events when one, then two policemen came into the room, followed by another, older man who didnÂ’t look like a cop. I took a step back and found Autumn standing beside me, holding onto my arm and looking very worried. The older man began speaking quietly to Mrs. Crisp while one policeman listened, and the younger of the two cops came towards us.
He flipped open a notebook, licked the end of a pencil stub (yech!) and asked who we were. I had automatically started to speak when Autumn squeezed my arm. Mouth still open, I looked at her and wondered what was going on. Autumn surprised me by asking the officer for his identification; full name, badge number, and supervisorÂ’s name and badge number. You could tell that this annoyed the cop, but rules are rules and Autumn was well within her rights to ask for that information before going any further. It dawned on me that this sort of police visit might be a semi-regular occurrence in the Crisp household, and that Autumn knew how to handle the situation.
Rolling his eyes, the officer began reciting his name and badge number, but never finished as Mrs. Crisp collapsed back into a chair. Autumn immediately raced to her side and knelt down by her mother, asking what was going on.
The officer in front of me licked his pencil again and asked my name. I reminded him that he hadnÂ’t finished identifying himself, and while it was satisfying to see his exasperation, I wondered if I wasnÂ’t setting myself up for grief at a future date.
Once properly identified, the officer asked his questions. I gave my name and address and identified myself as AutumnÂ’s boyfriend. I had arrived just a few minutes before to pick up Autumn for a date. I knew her from school, we shared some classes. Across the room, Mrs. Crisp was back on her feet, her voice rising as she was in heated argument with the other policeman. I heard him utter Â“only a zombieÃ¢Â€� and Mrs. Crisp, enraged, launched herself at him. I donÂ’t think she actually hurt him, but it sure looked like she was trying to. The end result was Mrs. Crisp being handcuffed and led out to the police car parked at the curb, while Autumn peppered the older man with questions, only some of which I understood. I stood around, being mostly ignored and not knowing what else to do.
Autumn ran out of questions, and the older man asked if she had some place to stay. Autumn wanted to stay at her own house, but the policemen said that there was no way that it was possible. Finally, I could make a contribution to the situation, and suggested that she could stay at our place with my Mom and I. I indicated that the younger officer already had my contact information, and everyone seemed to agree that it was an acceptable idea.
Autumn went upstairs to pack some things, and when she returned I took her bag and we went outside. The officer allowed Autumn a moment with her mother, still cuffed and sitting in the back seat of the squad car. They talked quietly for a bit, then with a kiss goodbye Autumn rejoined me on the sidewalk, took my hand, and started walking slowly and distractedly towards my house. Behind us, the younger officer started stringing yellow Â“crime sceneÃ¢Â€� tape across the front porch.
You're inspiring me to write, yanno. It'll all be your fault! :-)
Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at January 17, 2006 06:26 PM (G2+7u)
Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at January 17, 2006 06:28 PM (G2+7u)
Posted by: BLUE at January 19, 2006 11:26 AM (4Xncc)
Posted by: Cindy at January 25, 2006 05:48 PM (5zJZs)
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