A Touch Of Red
My husband and I couldn’t leave the city, we weren’t allowed.
We both tested positive for the Red Virus. That gave us two years to live, three tops. In other countries the infected were being executed, killed in the streets. Here in enlightened America things were different, the President insisted on treating the infected ‘humanely’. Humane or not, only citizens with a clean bill of health got to go to the safe zones in the Midwest. The rest of us were forced to stay in the cities on the coast, observed by scientists in hazmat suits and protected by soldiers that wouldn’t look us in the eye.
When I think of what the disease will do to me- somehow transform me into something not quite human any more. I’ve seen the videos of what the press has dubbed ‘monsters’. I’ve seen what they do.
A few weeks ago the government relocated all of us to a series of high rise tenements on the East Side. They said that they would be able to defend us more easily this way. The apartments here are larger and nicer than anything we could have afforded in our old life, so I tried to make the best of it. My husband Brian however, insisted that we were only there so that when the time came they could liquidate us more easily. He blames me for this, he thinks that I brought the disease home because I worked in a hospital, but I was in the billing office! He was just as likely to be the one that touched an unseen speck of dried blood somewhere, somehow.
I liked to think he still loved me but he’d stopped saying it, and he wouldn’t touch me, not even in passing. We didn’t sleep together, I stayed in one bedroom, he stayed in another.
Not that anyone around here ever really slept that much. All of us, the scientists, the soldiers, the infected, stole catnaps whenever we could in the mornings and afternoons.
There was no rest at night, the night belonged to the monsters. They knew right where to find us, something about the infection calls to them. They howled at the barricades from sundown to sunup. Sometimes they would manage to break through the fortifications. Then the howls would be drowned out with gunfire and order would be restored by morning.
I think that’s why we started having the parties. It wasn’t a conscious decision you understand, its just that the nights were too long and terrible to experience alone.
At first we got together in little groups, no more than five at a time. We didn’t want to make our protectors uneasy, but as our hopes dwindled our gatherings got more elaborate. Soon all thirty or so of us were congregating nightly in the penthouse. We would cook, and drink and laugh and try to ignore the horrors going on out in the streets and inside our bodies. Brian was always there but he would just sit and sulk out on the balcony, drinking until he passed out, leaving me to carry him back to our apartment at dawn.
One nice thing about our keepers, they were pretty damn generous with the booze and food. I guess it was better to have us fat and happy than terrified and ready to riot.
Tonight’s gathering was going along nicely. Someone had found up a karaoke machine and we were all four sheets to the wind, doing our best to belt out the songs of our glory days.
All except for Brian of course. He was out on the balcony, occasionally I would glance over and catch him glaring reproachfully at us. I kept trying to get him to join in or just return one of my smiles. It was hopeless.
About halfway though a rambling version of ‘Paradise by The Dashboard Lights’ Brian started screaming. He was pointing and gesturing to the east. I ran out to the balcony to see what was wrong.
Monsters, thousands of them. The streets were clogged with them. Walls of ruined flesh moving towards us. The soldiers were shooting at them, they were using machine guns and grenades but for every monster they blew to pieces four more stepped into its place.
I reached for Brian’s hand. He pulled away, saying something ugly under his breath. I don’t know. I went crazy. I was afraid and I wanted someone to touch me and if he wouldn’t…
Next thing I knew I had the karaoke microphone in my hand and I said something like, “Let’s live tonight ‘cause we’ll all be dead by morning!”
Then I grabbed the nearest man and kissed him hard. At first he pulled away, then he pressed against me. We fell back onto an overstuffed chair, pulling at each other’s clothes.
It was like a floodgate had opened. We were joined by another couple on the floor and then another. It was surreal, it was an orgy We were all trying to shut out the world and for a while it did.
After a while we exhausted ourselves and the sounds of the slaughter going on outside reached us again. Brian was gone. For a moment I gloried in the thought of how the sight of me in the arms of others must have burned him. Then another thought occurred to me. It was enough to send me running half-dressed down the stairs to our apartment
I found Brian on his bed, passed out and barely breathing. Blood had begun to leak from his pores. He was changing. You could see it happening. It was like an army of maggots was running wild under his skin.
There are procedures for the final stages, they had been drilled into us every morning, there were posters on the walls reminding us. We were told to watch each other for signs of the blood sweat- if you see something say something. You call for the scientists, and they call for the soldiers. The infected are taken away for one last examination and then it’s cremation by flame thrower.
I didn’t do any of that. I laid down beside him instead.
I’m waiting now, I’ve been waiting for almost two hours. The battle is still going on outside but I could care less who’s winning. The Red Virus will be done with its work soon and what sits up beside me won’t quite be Brian anymore but he’s going to touch me.
One last time.