14 Days …

Fourteen Days

Quarantine was only supposed to last fourteen days. Fourteen. 

The world went on lockdown on June 17th. The virus, worse than any ever seen before, had spread quickly in the previous twenty or so days, starting somewhere not here, with an incubation period of fourteen days at most, three at the least. Symptoms are basic sniffles and sore throat at first. No real cough or sneezing. Then … then the headaches start, the eyes swell and muscles cramp. Finally, the Infected, as they have been dubbed by some jerk on CNN, become violent. 

The only cure right now … well, there is no cure other than ending the life of an Infected, either before or after they reach the violent stage.

At the beginning, Kaycee and I had plenty of supplies—she saw it coming, having watched her town and world get disrupted a few years ago, thanks to another infectious disease no one knew much about. We played board games and binge watched some of our favorite shows. We had sex a few times—I never knew boredom could lead to that, but I took what I could in times such as these.

Through three days, we both felt fine. No symptoms. Not even a hint of one. On the fourth day, Kaycee woke with the sniffles. 

“It’s just allergies,” she told me as she wiped her nose of the steady faucet drip. 

My first mistake was believing her. Why wouldn’t I? She had allergies more in the summer when things are dryer than in the spring months when the pollen is everywhere. Knowing that, what reason did I have to disbelieve her? She took her allergy medicine and we thought nothing else about it. 

That’s not entirely true. I did think about it, especially when she kissed me and … other things. I thought about it even more on the sixth day when she woke, not just with a bad case of the running nose, but also with a voice that sounded like she gargled with a handful of razors. 

“Kaycee, are you okay?”

She sniffled, shook her head and swallowed hard. Her throat seemed to expand and she grimaced. It was hard to watch. “I don’t feel too good, Cole,” she said. Her eyes held tears in them. I think we both knew what was happening, but neither of us wanted to admit it, at least not out loud. 

Kaycee laid down on the couch and turned the television on. She clutched herself in a tight hug as she shivered uncontrollably. I covered her in a blanket and went to the kitchen. With tears in my eyes, I stood at the counter, knowing it was only a matter of time—a little more than a week, or a little less—before … The deep breath I took rumbled in my chest. I wiped my eyes and made her an old fashioned hot toddy, heavy on the whiskey. By the time I got it back to her, she had fallen asleep on the couch.

The next two days, Kaycee mostly slept. Occasionally she would wake and I would give her medicine I knew would do no good. Then she slept again. I sat on the love seat across from her, my knees pulled up to my chin, my arms wrapped around my shins. I rocked as I sat, alone, though Kaycee was no more than fifteen feet from me. 

Kaycee woke with a headache on the ninth day. She clutched the sides of her head as if her hands were clamps. She cried and snot ran from her nose. Hot compresses did nothing to soothe the pain. Neither did the bit of high dose drugs I still had from the surgery on my back seven months earlier. 

On the tenth day, her eyes bulged. Her eyelids had swollen and when she opened them, her eyes looked as if they would pop right out of their sockets. It was then that she made her request.

“Kill me, Cole.” 

She shielded her eyes from me when she said this, as if she didn’t want me to see her with blood dripping from her sockets. I shook my head. 

“Kaycee …”

“If you love me, you will not let me suffer through this.”

“Kaycee …”

“Don’t you understand?” she yelled. She moved her hands from her face. Her once green eyes had become darker and tinted red. They pulled at their lids as if they were too big to be contained behind them. Blood trickle from the corners where skin had torn. The most beautiful person I had ever known was now one of the Infected and she was asking me to kill her. “I’m going to die, Cole. I’m going to die, but before I do, I’m going to get worse, and I am going to try to kill you in the process. People get violent from this. They lose themselves, Cole. They lose themselves.”

Kaycee plopped onto the sofa and put her face in her hands. She looked up at me a minute later. Tears, mingled with blood, fell down her face. “I don’t want to lose myself.”

I nodded. “Okay.” There was nothing more I could say.

She took a deep breath and tried to smile, but it came out as a sneer that I wish I could forget. 

“Take some of your sleeping pills,” I said. “When you’re asleep …”

Kaycee nodded, stood and walked over to me. She put her arms around me and cried into my shoulder. She said ‘thank you,’ and kissed my cheek. I said nothing when she walked away. Half an hour later, she lay in bed, sleep about to claim her one last time. 

“I love you, Cole,” she said.

“I love you, too, Baby,” I responded and held her in my arms until she fell asleep.

I left the room and went into the living room. I pulled the curtain aside and peered out the window trying to work up the nerve to kill my girlfriend, my best friend, my lover. What I saw made my heart sink. What I saw …

A man ran down the street. He wore a pair of dark blue warmup bottoms and nothing else. He was bare foot and shirtless and his eyes were so huge they wobbled with each step he took. His feet were bloody, as were his arms and hands and mouth. He looked like a man who had just ripped the flesh from a person’s body with his teeth. His hair was disheveled and he didn’t seem to focus on anything or run in any direction. He zigged and zagged and stumbled along until he crashed into a parked car not more than forty feet from our house. His head hit the back window. His legs snapped at his knees and he fell to the ground, leaving a smear of blood on the trunk. I wasn’t positive but I believed he was dead. 

This man had lost himself. Kaycee would do the same soon. 

On the morning of the eleventh day, I went into our bedroom. It was still dark out and would be for several more hours. Kaycee lay on her side, her eyelids barely closed because of the swelling of her eyes. I looked at her, my heart broken. In one hand I held a pistol. In the other, a pillow from the couch. I thought I would hesitate, maybe even turn around and walk away, unable to end her misery. 

I didn’t.

I put the pillow over her head and pulled the trigger. The sound of the gun made me jump. I left the pillow in place and walked out of the room. I closed the door, locking it from the inside.

The last two days—numbers twelve and thirteen for me—I’ve stood at the window, staring out at the dead man who had crashed into the car. Flies buzz around him. I can’t help but wish I could go close his eyes, but that is impossible. They stare blankly at the sky day and night. 

Day fourteen, the last day of quarantine if you have shown no symptoms. I woke to a runny nose. I wiped at it with my hand. The smear of snot doesn’t scare me like I thought it would. It could just be a cold. Maybe it’s allergies. Maybe I’m one of the Infected now. 

Outside the front window, no more than forty feet from my house, a man lay dead, one of the Infected who lost himself. 

I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to go that way. I guess … I guess there is only one thing left for me to do …

AJB

3/23-3/24/2020

I wrote this at the beginning of the Covid 19 mess we are all currently dealing with. I now realize it could be so much larger, but I’m not sure that is a story I want to tackle.

The Creeping Crud

~Sniffle sniffle, ah-choo, cough, hack, wheeze, sniffle sniffle~

This has been my life the last couple weeks.

I call it the Creeping Crud. Or the Lucas Pederson. (Sorry, inside joke to one of my friends. He’ll know what I’m talking about and probably get a good laugh out of it.)

This cold, allergy or whatever it is came at both a lousy time and a somewhat good time. Yeah, contradicting, I know. But, hear me out.

Wait, before I go there, let me give you a little back story to this.

The weekend before Thanksgiving we came home after my son’s final flag football game to find a little kitten in our yard. It took off running and got itself stuck between our privacy fence and the neighbor’s fence. We tried to entice it out with a bit of food–it was scrawny and looked like it hadn’t eaten in a very long time (even though the kitten couldn’t have been much over six weeks old, if that).

Throughout the day, my kids kept watch for the thing, fretting over it all the while. Then later that night it ended up in our house. This, after me saying, ‘No, we will not have another cat.’

Yeah, we know who won that little battle, don’t we?

My wife fell in love with it and the rest is history. So, now we have a new pet–a little kitten named Mia.

However, since that day I have been sick. I blame the kitten. I say I am allergic to the little thing (which, by the way, I have dubbed Hellspawn). My wife says for me to get over it. I’m not winning this battle and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

[[Side note: I grew up around cats. I have one appropriately named Pouncer. He’s eleven or twelve now. I’ve never been allergic to cats. However, the Hellspawn must have some special dander or maybe it’s Cat Scratch Fever, since the demon scratched me when I tried to pick it up. End side note.]]

Now that I have you completely sympathetic to my plight (yeah, right) I will get on to the real story at hand. This Creeping Crud (or Lucas Pederson. Take your choice.), complete with the sniffles, sneezing, coughing, heavy chest, headache, watery eyes and just overall blahness, has stuck with me now for 13 days. I hate it. One minute I feel okay, the next minute I want to stick a hot poker up my nose. It truly sucks.

Sleeping in bed is next to impossible, so the recliner has become my friend–oh, yes, it has. I have sneezed so many different ways that I can’t even begin to count them. My ribs hurt from all of the ah-choo’s and hacking I’ve done. I am tired of wiping my *^%$ nose. Thankfully, it’s not the other end running…

So, the timing sucks with Thanksgiving and my son’s birthday and my daughter’s drama group’s performance coming up and the parade and… oh yeah, work… But, it’s also kind of beneficial that it happened when it did. You see, I’ve been working on this series of stories titled Dredging Up Memories.

[[Side note: Shameless plug. You can find Dredging Up Memories at Tales of the Zombie Wars. Just follow the link and enjoy. End Side note.]]

In the current installment, my main character gets sick and thinks he is dying. He fears he will become one of the zombies that have plagued the world. I’m not going to tell you what happens, but being sick has helped me write some of the symptoms for my main character. It has helped me to write a more believable sickness into the story.

And that’s really what this blog is about.

To be good writers, we have to draw on life. To tell good stories, we have to make them as believable as possible–even stories with zombies in them. By drawing from the Creeping Crud that has kicked my tail end the last two weeks gives my main character’s sickness more depth. It makes it more believable.

That’s what we writers need to do with all of our characters: draw off of real life and put them in situations that the readers can believe. Rich characters with depth to them make for great stories, believable stories; stories you like or hate because of the main character was either loveable or detestable.

So, while I have suffered from this sickness, I have also paid a lot of attention to how my body feels. That way I can get it right on paper when I write about it.

To go with this, the little Hellspawn has, well, spawned a story idea as well, so I guess that’s one thing good about the kitten that my family loves.

I said all that in hopes of impressing upon you the importance of paying attention to your surroundings, your body, the weather, the way the world is, people and so on. If you know about the world, if you know about people and if you know about feelings, then you should be able to write an engaging tale. It’s our jobs, as writers, to tell stories in a way that makes our readers feel something. That’s the goal: make the readers feel… anything. Love. Happiness. Sadness. Disgust. Hate for a character. Anything at all. Give them something to feel and you give them something to remember.

For now, I’m A.J. and I’m out.

~Sniffle sniffle, ah-choo~