Memoirs – by Rosa Meronek
“It was the flu.” Dark circles shadowed the man’s blue eyes as he looked into the recorder. He ran a hand through his dark, shaggy hair. Swallowing, he let out a slow breath as he looked off to the side. He shook his head. “People were acting like it was the end of the world.”
His hand shook as he reached in front of him to a small table and picked up a dark cup. Steam rose as he took a slow sip then stared down into it as he clutched it in his lap with both hands. “People hoarded food. Hoarded all the essentials. The Markets couldn’t keep anything on the shelves. Lines wrapped around the buildings. People waited for hours.”
He took another sip from his cup. “Then they stopped waiting. Stopped being polite and orderly. They started looting and rioting. Law-abiding citizens fighting in the streets over a bag of rice.”
The man rubbed a hand across his face, combing his fingers down through the salt and pepper of his short beard. “The Leaders didn’t know what to do. They started restricting the communities. Closing the Markets and banning gatherings. They closed the Academies and the Eateries.” He laughed. “They were trying to prevent further spread of the disease.”
He turned and coughed into his hand. “The Armies were called in to keep the peace. We patrolled the streets. But, all we did was scare people more, I think. To have so many men and women in uniform, armed, walking through their neighborhoods.”
He shook his head. “Our first night, I was out walking patrol with my squad. The stomp of our boots in unison sent people running from the streets.” He half-smiled. “We were well-oiled machines.”
His smile faded. “Then we heard yelling. And crying. We ran around the corner of a building. A younger man stood over an old woman. He was kicking her. He’d been trying to steal the loaf of bread she was clutching.”
He laughed. “She was a tough old lady. She wouldn’t let that bread go.” He cleared his throat and coughed then took another sip from his cup. His gaze cast downwards.
“We thought that was a one-time thing. It wasn’t. It turned out to be the norm. Every night. Every day. People were desperate. We had to stop people from hurting their neighbors. It didn’t help that every day new data about the spread and mortality rate was being pushed by the news.”
He looked into the recorder again. “It was the flu. Every year, thousands of people caught the flu. Died from the flu. But, this strand was new. And every number was sensationalized. Every report was bigger than life.” He paused, his eyes narrowing slightly. “It was like they wanted everyone scared.”
He ran a hand through his hair again. “This went on for several months. Curfews. Forced quarantines. More Soldiers. But that was just the beginning. Next came the vaccine.” He covered his mouth as he yawned, pulling his coat tighter.
“The Physicians came through with a vaccine. Military was the first to get it. We were forced to get ours, whether we wanted it or not. But that was nothing new. We were always poked and prodded and jammed full of whatever concoctions the Leaders wanted.”
He shook his head. “The Leaders and those of value were next. The monied people ensured they got theirs ahead of others, paying exorbitant sums for that privilege.” His lip curled in disgust. “Instead of immunizing where it was most needed first, the Leaders let the poorer communities suffer. Only after they and all their friends of wealth and influence had received their vaccines, was it released to the rest of the public.”
He reached down to the table, picking up a small pot and pouring brown liquid into his cup. “They couldn’t make the stuff fast enough. The Apothecaries would receive a shipment and be out before the end of the day.”
A wet sheen glossed his eyes. “Two months later was the first case of the Nova virus. It hit the youth and the elders the hardest. My wife. She was six months pregnant.” He stared down, silent. He swallowed and brushed a finger across the corner of his eye. “There’s nothing worse for a husband, you know. To watch helplessly as your wife…”
He cleared his throat.
He looked down into the cup in his hands then took a long drink. He scratched at the scruff on his face. “As fast as the first virus spread, Nova was so much faster. Even though everyone was already quarantined and restricted to their homes. People started to blame the NoVacs – the people who refused to get the vaccine.” He shrugged.
He shook his head. “We all just wanted someone to blame.” He sniffed and took a deep breath. “People were dying. Every day. People weren’t thinking straight. They did things…we did things.”
He stared off to the side. His gaze shifting down in front of him, he leaned forward and picked up a small picture. His finger traced over the image of a young woman. He cleared his throat, his voice quiet. “The population was decimated. We had to…we had to burn the bodies. There were just too many to bury. The smell…”
Distant gusts of wind.
Far-away cracks of thunder.
Slowly he shook his head, directing his gaze into the recorder. “It was the vaccine.” His voice gained strength, filled with anger. “They released it before it was ready, and it mutated the original flu virus. We thought we were preventing the flu strain, but we caused Nova.”
He smirked. “People of value. Joke was on them, wasn’t it.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Towns and cities were gone in a matter of weeks. The virus…it was like it was intelligent. Quarantines didn’t work. It spread over the whole world in a matter of months.”
He spread his hands open in the air. “And then it was gone. Small pockets of survivors. Some of us had a natural immunity, I guess. Larger pockets among the NoVacs.”
He chuckled. “We all sort of had this unspoken agreement. We walked away from our cities, our technologies. We let nature take them over, and we moved off into rural areas. Lived simply. In small groups. Not that there were many of us anyway. I think there was the fear that we were being punished for our modern ideas, our vanity, technology. I don’t know.”
He was quiet again. He let out a long, slow breath then smiled. He stared into the recorder. “It’s been about fifty years.” He coughed into his hand then took a sip from his cup. “I’m dying. No medics near me, so I can’t say from what. But, I am. I know it.” He laughed. “Frankly, I’m happy about it. I’ve seen too much. I live with the nightmares.”
He pulled his coat tighter, yawning. “I’m sending this out into the world. Into the future. As a warning. Because history repeats. It always does. We let our fear and arrogance destroy our world. Don’t let the same thing happen to yours.”
The rays of light receded into the floating silver orb before it lowered slowly onto the desk.
The sound of the clock on the wall echoed in the silent room. The woman in the brown leather chair behind the desk looked up at the man standing next to her. “And, we’re sure this is authentic?”
The young man nodded. “Yes, Madam President. It was found at a dig site in Arizona. Carbon dating puts it at over 20,000 years old.”
Her eyes narrowed, and her eyebrow lifted. “And they spoke English 20,000 years ago?”
The young man smiled. “It seems to have a universal translator. The person who uncovered it heard it in Navajo.”
She let out a slow breath, staring down at the gleaming silver sphere. Her fingers idly tugged at her left earlobe. She reached out and brushed her fingers lightly on the orb. It floated off the desk, emitting beams of light, as the recording started once again.
The young man cleared his throat.
She looked up at him.
“Madam President, the CDC is still waiting on your answer.”
She shook her head slowly. “They’re sure it’s safe?”
“They say they’ve had positive results with preliminary testing.”
She sighed. “That’s not exactly the answer I was hoping for.” Her gaze shifted back to the silver orb as it continued to replay the hologram. She shook her head. “No. Not until they’re certain.”
The man stood quietly.
She raised her gaze back to him. “Yes?”
He cleared his throat. “With all due respect, Ma’am. You’re trailing in the polls. Your opponent is using the current state of things to say you lack initiative.” He tugged at his tie. “People are scared, Madam President. They want a leader who isn’t afraid to act.”
She closed her eyes, letting out a deep sigh. “Or we could release the orb and its message to the public.” She opened her eyes and leaned forward, staring at the floating sphere. “This is a scientific discovery that changes the way we’re going to think of human history.”
“Madam President, the American people don’t care about a scientific discovery right now.” The deep voice drew her attention to the man in uniform at her left.
The many rows of pins and ribbons on his black jacket shifted as he put his hands on the desk and leaned forward, staring at the recording. “A man killed his family and himself this morning because he wanted to save them from the coming Apocalypse.”
He stood and walked around the desk to stand inches from the floating orb. “If you tell people that a society, clearly more technologically advanced than ours went through the same thing and didn’t survive…the country will go into a bigger panic.”
He turned to point at the television that had been brought in. On the screen, news anchors were discussing the current epidemic.
She stared at the General then back at the orb. She tugged lightly at her earlobe, glancing at the television. She gave a small nod to the young man. “Tell them to release the vaccine.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” His footsteps moved away from the desk towards the office door.
“James.” She lifted her head to look at him.
“Yes, Madam President?”
She stared at the orb as it floated above her desk. Her fingers pulled at her ear. “Release it to the low-income communities first.” She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose with two fingers, releasing a slow breath. “And make it readily available to the senior population as well.”
The young man’s lips pulled tight as he gave her a small nod. He turned and reached for the doorknob.
He turned back once again. “Ma’am?”
She tipped her head towards the orb. “Have that locked away in the vault.”