by Phil Johnson
“The plants are dying!”
The scream of a child, seven and a half years old -as she would normally correct- echoed through the living room and into the hallway. She was standing on the balcony looking at her mother's small urban garden, now covered in aphids.
“Again?” Her mother shouted back “Grab the bottle under the sink!”
The girl leaned forward and peered into the cilantro crawling with a city of tiny creatures. She stared as the specs wiggled and bounced around. Before answering she paused and wondered if she should let them live. Maybe they were nice and just needed food so they could live happy lives too. Why should she interfere with that?
“Did you get the bottle?” Her mother continued approaching the balcony. Her forehead glistened and the circles under her eyes emphasized a slight gauntness in her face. She was wearing her new pink bathrobe and from the dampness of her hair, her daughter could tell she had been cooling her face in the sink again.
“Let me see”
“I didn't get it yet. Maybe we should let them live. They are alive after all.” Her daughter responded hopefully.
“Baby they're not alive they're bugs. I don't want them on the plants and gettin into the house. Go look under the sink and grab the blue spray bottle. I'm not gon ask you again.”
After two minutes her daughter returned with the repurposed Febreze bottle marked “Vinegar”. She skipped through the door and presented the bottle to her mother.
The mother took a deep sigh and collected the bottle and began spraying the herbs on her balcony starting with the cilantro, almost all but lost to the insects. The dampness of her forehead intensified in her daughter's absence and now beaded into drops of sweat.
“You ok Mama?”
“Yeah I'm fine, just hot is all. What took you so long in there?” She continued to surgically spray the plants in the garden. Lifting every leaf to soak the invaders and their offspring in lethal showers of vinegar and water.
“I got some juice”
“Here you wanna learn how to do this?” The mother handed over the spray bottle. “Just lift up these leaves here and spray the bottom by the stalk and then spray the top. That way they don't have nowhere to hide”
“Ok!” Her daughter did as told, spraying toward the stalk first. Then under the leaf. Finally showering the whole herb with the concoction. After diligently spraying three plants in a row she stopped and turned towards her mother with a bewildered look. “But aren't bugs supposed to help plants?”
“Not all of em. Some bugs are just there to keep eating ‘til everything's gone. These ones here, only care about themselves. They'll eat the whole plant and look for more plants until they're all gone.”
“What happens if they eat all the plants?”
“Well, I don't think they thought that far ahead.” The mother chuckled at her joke. “Keep spraying, I'm gonna go put some clothes on. We gotta go to the store.”
“Yes mam” The girl said, focusing on a particularly infested stalk. While before the green lice intrigued her, now, the idea of hundreds of crawling specs devouring the garden away absolutely disgusted her. “Gross gross gross,” she thought as she moved on to her last plant.
“Mama I’m finished!”
The child stuck her tongue out at the intruders. She was happy that they would soon all die and the plant would once again be edible. This mixed with a sense of pride at the accomplishment of doing the hard work of tending her mother's garden was just enough to earn her another glass of juice from the fridge.
“You got your mask?” The mother entered the kitchen briskly and grabbed the keys off the wall.
“Oh yeah!” the girl retorted, running out of the room momentarily and returning with a worn-in green surgical face covering.
“Okay, let's go.”
The car ride was long and silent. Both seemed to have a lot on their mind, and on a hot summer day such as today, it was best to keep quiet and enjoy the car air conditioning. “Way better than the loud box fan at home,” the girl thought to herself.
Upon pulling up to the large Meijer’s grocery store the child began to notice that something was off in her mother's disposition. She was usually much more lively, the type to sing along to the radio, but since earlier that day she had been especially quiet and removed. If something were truly wrong, she would've told, that was their agreement. Whatever was going must not be that big of a deal she concluded. Nonetheless, this withdrawn version of her mother felt alien.
“What are we getting?”
“I need to pick up my prescription and get a couple supplements.”
“Yeah just some pills to help us in case we get sick” The mother explained. “Alright grab your mask and let's go”
Inside, the store was ablaze with commotion. Hundreds of people marching up and down the aisle filling their carts with boxes, bags, and cans of food and supplies. Bagged rice, bottled water, toilet paper, dry noodles, flour, soda, freezer goods, potato chips, and paper towels filled the dozens of carts zipping around. Some of the shelves were bare. Others were disheveled and had only remnants of packaging, left behind by hasty consumers.
The line for the pharmacy was wrapped around the aisle of cosmetics.
“Damn this is gonna take forever” The mother grumbled looking down at her phone. She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead and cleared her throat. She pointed at a wall with shelves full of over the counter medicine.
“Look over there and see if you can find a package of cough drops. Uh the lemon kind”
Her daughter jumped at this opportunity. She loved it when her mother asked her to do things on her own. Plus cough drops were basically candy. As she skipped over to the drug aisle she sighed with relief. Maybe this was the answer she was looking for all along. Cough drop would cure her mother's cold and bring her back to her normal self. Maybe after her mother had one, she would eat one too, just to be sure she didn't get sick either.
The aisle was much longer than she expected. “Where would they hide the cough drops?” she thought, surveying the shelves for pictures of cherries, lemons, or icicles. Of course, she could read every package, but why bother when she knew it would be marked with colorful pictures like candy.
“Halls” she read to herself scanning the packages for lemon-flavored. The section was pretty picked over and it took longer than expected to retrieve the requested lozenge as it laid hidden behind several packages of “Original flavor”, whatever that was. Triumphant the girl ran back down the aisle, making up the time lost by getting distracted with all the pictures.
When she turned the corner towards the pharmacy the girl could tell something was off by the crowd that blocked the view of where her mother was in line. As she worked her way through the crowd she could see that her mother was in fact, the spectacle, kneeling on the ground, gasping deeply for air.
“Mama!” she yelled pushing aside a tall man who appeared to be calling an ambulance. Her mother looked frightened and her eyes were filled with tears.
“Just keep breathing, they're on their way,” said the man looking down at the both of them. “Is this your little girl?”
“I'm seven and a half!” the girl retorted, frustrated that someone would refer to her as little.
“Oh of course!” he replied “Well don't worry your mother is going to be just fine. The ambulance is going to take her to the hospital in just a moment”
“Ok?” the girl said confused. She already inferred as much when he was on the phone. Why did he feel the need to over-explain it to her? More importantly, was her mother really gonna be ok?
Somehow her mother managed to mutter through her wheezing.
She reached out and pulled her daughter tightly into her chest. The girl could feel the pounding of her mother's heartbeat against her face. She also felt the familiar comfort of her mom's embrace. This is what she was accustomed to. Whatever hijacked her mom’s personality earlier that day was not able to mask her true affection, even if it did make her sick.
Her mother squeezed out one more painful utterance.
“I love you baby”
“I love you too Mama.”
“So what am I supposed to say, we’re all gonna die?”
The entire writing staff turned towards Cecily Meyers in shock. This was the third time this week she had erupted in the newsroom. It was unusual for Cecily to erupt as she was a very patient person normally, but ever since the virus had begun spreading through the state, tension in the writing room had been high.
“No, we just want people to be clear about the severity of the virus. This week a lot has happened and we need to report it.” A young assistant producer spoke up. He had worked with Cecily on this show for about three years now and had a good track record with appeasing her in the rare cases where she disagreed with the top stories.
“So let me get this straight, you want me to report on a dying ocean, killer bees, and a goddamn plague in the same hour? I might as well say, good evening, our top story today is that the world is ending, prepare accordingly.”
“I know it sounds-“
“Sounds?” Cecily yelled across the room, starling several people in the back of the office. “I’m tired of this shit, the Fox News guys get to act like there’s fucking rainbows comin out of their ass, and I'm selling doom and gloom. Meanwhile, I’ll have you know, my ratings are going down for the FOURTH straight week. Does anyone want to talk about that?”
Adrian had heard enough. She had been an executive producer for twenty-five years. She was all too familiar with her anchors melting down before a broadcast. Of course, she wanted to give Cecily the benefit of the doubt as a friend, but she had a show in a half-hour and there were bigger things to worry about.
“Cecily let’s talk in my office.”
Stern but sympathetic. Her tone came across like a loving grandmother watching a child about to make a mistake. She loved Cecily and she was very proud of what they built. These were tough times but that’s the job, and Cecily knew that.
“Everyone else! Focus on getting me an interview with an epidemiologist. I don't care who does it, and I don't care who it is. Whoever screwed this up this is a warning! Cecily lets go.”
They rounded the row of desks set for interns and walked into a long hallway finding a glass door about a third of the way down. Adrian slowly closed and locked the door behind them and took a deep breath.
“Do you see what we’ve built here? What are you trying to do?”
“Adrian, I can't keep doin this. It’s draining me, I won't have nothin left. Do you know what’s like saying this stuff day after day?”
“Cecily this is the NEWS. You don't get to pick what happens, your job is to report it. Let the entertainers at Fox distort, spin, and omit. That’s not what we do here. If you want a night off, fine, we can do that. But when you get back you're still gonna report the news. Think about what we’ve got here for one second. Think about what this means for our people.”
“Our ratings are down Adrian. No one wants to hear this stuff. They just tune it all out. They tune it out and make me the bad guy. We need hope right now, not all this doom and gloom.”
“Look I’m not here to talk philosophy with you, Cecily. I am here to tell you that we have about twenty minutes before you are on camera and you are gonna have to do whatever it takes to get yourself in the mood to make that happen. You want tomorrow off, fine. Tonight you're on air talking about the virus, the oceans, and the goddamn bees. Do you understand?
Cecily sighed and looked down. She knew she couldn't win this fight. Even with a popular show, there was too much at stake. A bad report from Adrian and she would never host again. Her heart beat with anxiety in anticipation of her concession. She was never particularly good at apologizing.
“Good” Adrian sighed. She walked closer to Cecily and gently took her hand. “So what’s really goin on here?”
Tears began to stream down Cecily's face. Adrian winced at the idea of getting her back into makeup before tonight’s broadcast. She held firm and waited quietly for Cecily to wipe her tears.
“My mom. She’s got it. I found out about an hour ago. They’re taking her to the hospital right now.”
“Jesus Cecily,” Adrian whispered, now too, developing small tears. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“I don't know. Everything was happening so fast. I mean she’ll be fine right? We caught it early.”
“Yeah. She's gonna be fine. Have faith, Cecily.” Adrian embraced Cecily and thought of the half-decade she spent producing her show and passing all the wisdom she had learned in the industry onto her. She saw Cecily as her daughter and hoped that Cecily also looked up to her as a maternal figure. But alas, she was not her mother and Adrian recognized that. It was hard to do what they did, but the sacrifices of success don't always outweigh the benefits.
“Look, you gotta go on tonight, that’s just the reality. But starting tomorrow take as much time as you need. We’ll get Chris to sub. We got fifteen minutes to air and I don't even know if we’ve booked all our guests. I know your mother we'll be fine. She’s only my age for crying out loud.”
Cecily smirked, took a deep breath, and nodded.
Le Bistro Petit was filled customers for the first time in months. After several weeks of rearranging tables, installing new sanitizing stations, and implementing new safety protocol, the small late-night diner was back in business.
A young man sat alone at a small table near the front window entranced, staring downwardly at his cellphone. It was already ten minutes past eight o’clock and he was beginning to become nervous. He scrolled through his apps looking for a signal for his appointment's absence. Nothing. Tardiness was among his top pet peeves. It subtly reminded him of all the times people in his life had let him down. “People can't be trusted” was a common theme of his darkest thoughts. Sometimes it caused him to discount those around him too quickly, leaving him feeling isolated. To cure his depression he recently had begun to experiment with dating apps. An easy entrance to social life for an introvert like himself. Ironically hiding behind a screen made him feel more trusting of others, and as his online therapist advised, online dating may be good for his mental health.
This new chapter in his life was all about rebirth. Ever since the incident, he decided that the best way to move forward would be to let go of that part of his personality that was afraid to interact with people in person. They may never be able to understand, but at least the conversation would distract him from his past, and maybe that was all he needed. So he threw on his cross pattern “Sand” button up, black trousers and his favorite BCBG loafers with the silver buckle. ”Presentation is everything” his mother always used to say.
Impatiently he glanced up at a nearby hostess who shot back a quick smile and continued sorting the menus on the podium. He looked back down at his phone and pulled up the “woody puzzle” app in hopes to pass the time.
“Raymon?” A deep voice interrupted his gameplay. He looked up to see a disappointingly underdressed man smiling at him.
“Yeah, Isaac right?” Raymon stood up to give Isaac a hug, who to Raymon's delight, was even taller in person. He took off his face mask and struck a pose, showing off his outfit that had been delicately curated especially for tonight.
“Oh man, look at you! I didn’t know you cleaned up so nice! I’m sorry, I should have known to come more correct.” Issac looked disappointingly at his 1998 Retro Air Jordans. He too removed a light blue medical mask covering his face.
“No, it's fine, if anything I’m overdressed!" Raymon laughed, embarrassed at the gulf of understanding between the two. He was determined not to have another failed date, so he looked over at the hostess and quickly changed the subject.
“How about a drink?”
“Absolutely.” Isaac smiled sitting back into his seat. Although he was much larger than Raymon, he had a patient aura that disarmed all the cynicism Raymon had built up in his mind.
“Can I get you started on anything?” A nearby server approached the table after being tipped off by the hostess.
“I'll have the Blue Hawaiian and can I ask to substitute the rum for tequila?”
“Sure any Tequila in mind?”
“How about yourself?” The server turned towards Isaac.
“Great! I’ll give you a couple minutes to look over your menus and be right back with those drinks”
“You’re a lot fancier than I thought!” Isaac laughed
“Hey, I just appreciate a good drink”
“I can tell you appreciate the finer things in life. I like that, a man that knows what he wants”
Normally this kind of flirtatious banter made Raymon uncomfortable, but for some reason, Isaac's eyes continued to set him at ease. Maybe this date wouldn’t be so bad after all. Raymon sank deeper into his chair as his heart rate slowly returned to normal.
“So tell me more about you. You’re like a scientist right?”
“I wouldn’t say all that!” Isaac laughed “At least not right now anyway, I’m studying biology and working as a TA at the moment. I still haven’t fully decided on a dissertation yet but I've got a couple ideas.”
“It’s hard to imagine someone as smart as you being into comic books and shit. ” Raymon laughed “I would think that all that kind of stuff is beneath you”
“No, of course not! I will always be a Black nerd at heart. Plus I think it's good to enjoy fantasy, especially as a researcher because it expands your view of what’s possible. It keeps my imagination going, you know?”
“Yeah, it makes sense. I feel very lucky to be on a date with the only chill Black scientist comic book nerd in America!” Raymon Laughed
“Trust me there’s more than you think.”
“Oh really? They must all be straight.”
“Here are those drinks.” The server approached the table with a large blue cocktail and a much more reasonably sized tumbler.
“Oh wow, maybe I should have gotten one of those.”
“Don’t worry you’ll have plenty of opportunities. You took a Lyft right?”
“So what got you into science? Like why did you decide to pursue it?”
“Oh right to it huh? Well, to be honest with you it started with the comic books. I loved the idea that something could happen to your body, you know your biology, that gave you superhuman powers. That was so cool to me. So In high school, I decided to start studying anatomy which led me to anthropology in college which eventually led me to biology.”
“Oh wow so you must know a lot about us huh? Like where we came from?”
“I guess so. I guess the way I think about it is, I don't really study where we came from as much as I do research on how we got here. Anyway, I feel like I’m talking a lot about myself. I wanna know more about you.”
“Oh.” Raymon looked disappointed. He really didn’t like talking about himself too much. It gave him a lot of anxiety to think about the past. To go back at all in his mind was an arduous task of hurdling traumas that were usually too painful to ignore.
“Where did you say you grew up?”
“Bloomington” Raymon answered reluctantly.
“Oh wow like Indiana? You're a Hoosier huh?” Isaac laughed “I've been there before, it gets hot there doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, I hated it there.” Raymon sighed “ Let’s just say I didn’t really fit in”
“Oh yeah I bet. How long did you live there?”
“Till I was thirteen. I left in eighth grade. I’m glad too. I couldn’t have stayed much longer than that.”
“Oh really, what happened?”
Raymon opened his mouth to speak but quickly caught himself and stopped. He gazed across the table at his new friend and in an instant, he considered his relationship to this stranger. For the first time, his guard wasn't a mile-long obstacle course of nerves. It was hard to tell if it was the disarming nature of Isaac's smile or if he was evolving in real-time. Raymon grinned to himself.
“Things just got weird” he shrugged. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“So you’re like a biologist, and you’ve probably heard all kinds of crazy theories right? Have you ever heard of Panspermia?” The earnestness in Raymons eyes was undeniable. Isaac noticed this and decided to approach carefully.
“That’s the theory that life may have come from outer space right?”
“Yeah, the idea is that organic molecules traveled on meteor a long time ago and deposited life forming bacteria on Earth. I’m sorry, it's like a stupid thing I saw in a documentary recently.”
“Oh no, it's cool! I love this stuff! Yeah, I've heard of it. It’s a really interesting theory. It’s not something that I can say I have studied personally though. Unfortunately, my line of work isn’t this interesting” Isaac chuckled. “But to be honest I don't know if there is enough information to disprove it either.”
“Yeah exactly!” Raymon's eyes lit up “Like how did the earth go from no living thing to wild vegetation and life everywhere? No one knows!” He threw his hands up in an enthusiastic gesture.
“You’re right. I've thought about this before, but if the bacteria didn’t originate on earth, where'd it come from?”
“Right it had to have come from another planet!”
“Well here's the thing. I supposed it could have formed on the meteor after millions of years of collecting space dust. You know like a cosmic windshield.” Isaac laughed at his own joke.
“I guess. I think it's more probable that it came from another planet. Like what if an alien species is sending these comets out into space on purpose? Wouldn’t that be crazy?”
“Oh yeah, it definitely would.” Isaac nodded and took a drink to mask any signs of disagreement. He learned after years of grad school not to correct people immediately when they began running their theories past him. He didn’t want to seem antagonistic on a first date, not to mention he was having a good time with Raymon. Recently with all the research, lectures, and readings, it was rare that he got to talk conspiracy with someone who didn’t immediately shoot it down.
“Let me ask you a different question. What if disease worked the same way?”
“Oh huh. What do you mean?”
“Okay, so if this bacteria that comes from space created us, what if the same bacteria or virus or whatever is the cause of stuff like Covid or The Plague? Like all we know is that meteors hit the planet and bad stuff happens. First, it was the dinosaurs but now with the virus, it could be us.”
“Wow, I guess I haven’t thought about it that way. I guess I can see what you mean though. There is really so much we don't understand about viruses. They’re almost like little computer codes that hack our body.”
“Exactly! Don’t you see? This whole thing is like a game to them. They use us to like, increase the biology and technology of a planet, then they send in a virus to wipe us out so they can control the planet after we’re gone!” Raymon was buzzing with excitement. Isaac was the first person to really understand what he was saying.
“Yeah, I can see how that is a really interesting hypothesis. Unfortunately, we would need a whole lot of data to prove something like that.” Isaac took another sip of his drink. “I never knew you were so into aliens like this.”
“Oh yeah, to be honest, I've been doing a lot of research on this for years. The data is already there. I've seen it all myself”
Isaac frowned. The conversation had gone too far. Waxing philosophy about aliens is one thing, but now he was afraid that he may be in over his head. He decided he was going to have to steer this conversation away from the topic if he was going to continue to have a good night.
“Well, you’ll have to send it to me,” Isaac laughed again nervously. “You know how us scientists are, we like to see the sources. There’s a lot of stuff on the internet these days.”
“Oh yeah, I know what you mean.” Raymon agreed, “Don't worry its legit, a lot of stuff from military documents and scientific journals, you know stuff like that. I’ll send you some links now.” Raymon reached for his phone and began scrolling up and down until three bubbles popped up on Isaac's home screen.
“Great, I can't wait to check this out,” Isaac said, swiping away his notifications.
“Yeah that should give you a background, but to be honest I didn’t get the full picture until I had a first-hand account.”
“First-hand account? With- what do you mean? With aliens?” Isaac could feel his heart beating in his chest. He had many expectations for this date, but this was absurd.
“Well with the Centrillions to be exact, but on Earth, they’re known as the Anunnaki. They are the ones who seeded our planet.”
“And you learned all this from a first-hand account?” Isaac locked eyes with Raymon. He was waiting for Raymon to crack a smile and let him off the hook. Raymon's eyes stayed steady, he was convinced.
“I’ve never really told anyone this, but it's the reason I left Bloomington. The reason we moved.” Raymon sighed and looked at his cocktail. The fluorescent blue reminded him of the lights that night. The lights that blinded him. The moment that forever changed him. He looked up at Isaac. His eyes were still sweet, still forgiving. This wasn’t his cross to bear. Maybe down the road, they would get married, and one day over a joint on their front porch Raymon would turn to Isaac and tell him the gruesome details. He would explain the blue lights that hypnotized him to walk closer to that ship. He would tell the story of the blurry creatures who examined him. The same creatures that took his mother from him and his stepfather. At least the part of her they recognized. How this sent his whole life into a chaotic cyclone of depression and mistrust. How years later they would visit again and explain their whole existence to him. How he listened intently, even when they told him no one would ever understand. His hand began to tremor, the anxiety was coming back. In a moment Raymon thought of all these things and took a deep breath, as his therapist advised him to do. He smiled, at first forcing it, but soon after, a calm came over his body that was intrinsically joyful. This caused him to laugh. At first at himself, but then his laughter grew to encompass everything from this current situation to his entire life. No one would ever truly understand.
“They’ll never see it coming.” This statement first appeared as a thought in Charlie's mind causing him to sit up abruptly. The tubes running in and out of his mouth and nose startled him. Why couldn’t he move? His eyesight had been declining for the last three or four years, but for some reason, he could barely see anything at all. Just shadowy figures in the distance mumbling something.
“Where am I? What’s happening?” He choked on a lack of oxygen and fell back down to the cushion below.
“Good morning. How are you doing?” One of the shadows said moving towards him. Terrified Charlie wiggled to get free of the tubes but he was too weak. He could barely move without losing all the oxygen in his lungs. After a few moments of writhing, he succumbed to his weakness and laid back petrified.
The shadowy figure became clearer as it approached, slowly transforming into that of a nurse covered head to toe in seemingly a white spacesuit.
“Are you in pain?” The nurse fidgeted around with some of the nearby equipment. “Let me see if I can help with that.”
She attached a liquid to one of the tubes coming out of his arm. Charlie's body began to heat up as the liquid slid into his veins. This sudden shock to Charlie's system caused a moment of lucidity. He was in a hospital. He had been here before. When?
“The harvest is coming” He announced with very little breath to support the statement. “They will never-“
He collapsed again due to lack of air. The IV had made him faint and the images around him sank back into a similar blurry state as before.
“Hey, take it easy for a while. It’s going to be harder for you to heal if you keep getting worked up. I'll be back in a few to check on you and see how you're doing. Try your best to relax.”
Alex sighed. This had been a hard shift. Three of her patients had been put on a ventilator in the last six hours and she had already lost one. If Charlie Carter kept fighting the treatment he would be the next.
She looked at him as he laid quietly sedated. Normally there would be balloons and cards around him, but unfortunately, Charlie hadn’t had a single inquiry since he had been admitted six days ago. Alex wondered if Charlie had any children or grandchildren, maybe estranged and unaware of their father's illness, or simply lived too far to make the journey to wave bye through the window. Whatever the case, it was heartbreaking to see him slowly dying alone, and all too common.
The hallway was bustling with practitioners traveling in and out of rooms. To the untrained eye, it appeared as if a bomb went off and dozens of white-suited space men frantically tried to contain the disaster. Unfortunately, this was the norm, these days the nurses and physicians lived in a constant state of emergency. To Alex, this was simply the morning rush.
“How’s he doin in there?” Behind a small desk at the end of the hallway sat Kendra, a middle-aged RN who was old enough to be Charlie's daughter. Kendra was Alex’s self-defined work sister.
Alex handed over a manila folder and grabbed a small cup of water from the water cooler behind the desk.
“He’s awake, still seems like he is having trouble breathing. He keeps jumping up from the bed, I think all the stress is making it harder for his body to fight the virus.”
“Has anyone come for him yet? Has he given you a number to call?”
“ No, unfortunately. He barely talks to me when he’s awake, and when he does it's usually unintelligible.”
“Poor guy, probably developing dementia. Didn't his wife died of the virus in this hospital like a month ago?”
“Yeah, I worked a couple shifts when she was here, tended to her and everything. He still doesn’t recognize me.
“Probably your spacesuit.” Kendra smirked, “I wouldn’t recognize you either if I didn't see those dusty sneakers squeaking down the hallway towards me”
“Oh my god girl stop.” Alex laughed “ You know I haven’t had time to buy new ones yet!”
A small beeping sound interrupted their conversation. Alex looked down at her watch. “Alright let me go check in with him before I start this next round”
“Hey look. That man is suffering. Give him a minute and meet him on his level. He may not get a chance to talk to anybody else. Try and get a number to call”
Alex checked the time and sighed. She had a lot still to do and even taking a few minutes out of her schedule could set her back. Still, the thought of another patient passing this morning gave her anxiety, especially if he was alone.
“Ok, I will.”
Alex trotted back down the hallway towards the south end of the ICU until she reached a room numbered 221. She knocked gently and opened the door to reveal Charlie Carter, much calmer than before, awake and looking towards the ceiling. Without provocation, he turned towards Alex and began muttering softly.
“I need to tell you something.” He said this time a little louder.
Alex slowly approached the bed and quickly scanned the equipment to look for signs of distress.
“What is it, Mr. Carter?”
“I had a dream last night, I think it was a dream, it felt so real. There was a blue light and I was surrounded by these shadowy creatures. They talked to me. They said you would never believe me.”
“It sounds like it was a pretty scary dream.”
“There were these lines they would repeat over and over. They’ll never see it coming. The harvest is here. Lines like that. And then there was-“ Charlie's eyes focused up at the ceiling as if he could see the being in the room. His eyes widened and his body being to tremor
“Why don't you just sit back and relax, ok? I don't want you to stress yourself out. Do you want me to fix your pillows?” Alex took a pillow from the side of the bed, fluffed it, and carefully placed it behind Charlie's head. “See that’s better, right?”
Charlie, still stunned, began to cry. “My Janey was there, I saw her face. She was right over there.” He swallowed then scanned the room using only his eyes. “I know where I am…”
“Yes, you are at Mt. Calvary Hospital. You’ve been here a week after passing out on your front lawn. I hate to tell you this way, but you have the virus. Do you have anyone that you would like to-“
Charlie jumped forward, eyes wide petrified, and filled with tears. “I have to tell you something! They told me something. I have to tell you.”
“They? Who are they? You mean from your dream?”
“The harvest is coming! The virus of course! We are standing in the way of the harvest! Don’t you see?” Charlie fell back into the pillows and began breathing erratically. It was only after a moment that Alex recognized that he was laughing. The heart rate monitor began bouncing frantically, beeping loudly and rapidly. Alex eyed the IV drip and saw that it was empty. She wanted to fill it again but didn't want to startle Charlie by making any sudden moves.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean by the harvest?”
Charlie sighed and began to nod his head as if he had a deep internal revelation. The type of revelation Alex was used to seeing in her elderly patients in their final moments. A revelation that rarely could be communicated in words, but rather existed mostly as a solemn look of understanding in the eyes of the soon to be deceased. A look of comprehension you would expect from a grandparent holding their grandchild for the first time, or a great monk returning from stillness with new insight. These revelations were usually solely the privilege of their proprietors and there was no reason for Alex to assume that this understanding would be any different. But Charlie had a determined look in his eye. He pushed through the control of the ventilator and grabbed one last large breath.
“Don't you see, we are parasites!” Tears streamed down his face. At this point, Alex couldn’t tell if they were from joy or anguish. She had heard this sentiment before, from the blogs and late nights on porches philosophizing with friends, but never like this. His eyes were as true as stone behind the plastic tubes that seemed to suspend his life only long enough for him to utter this final thought. A thought that would follow Alex with her years later, long after the memory of Charlie Carter had disappeared. He said she wouldn’t understand, but she did. Not necessarily Charlie's recollection of his abduction, but who was she to say? Alex understood the sentiment behind the words. The idea of the parasite devouring everything around it only to replicate and spread more. The selfishness and the callousness. The lack of self-awareness. Just like the virus.
However he had managed to channel this intuition, the nature of it -not the words themselves- had been passed to Alex in a way she would never forget. Charlie reached out and touched her hand, covered by the barrier of her blue medical gloves. His head resting on the pillow. The one she fluffed only minutes ago to make him comfortable. He again struggling to breathe on his own, attempted a smile behind his face mask.
“Alex, we are the parasite”
Thanks for reading!