“I’m not leaving you on your own. Get in the car now.”
Mother said those words in a voice which didn’t tolerate any argument. To me, it had never seemed to occur to her that times had changed, and that I couldn’t be coddled anymore, especially with things being as they are now. Before I could even think to fret or retaliate, she turned back from the car. Now facing me, I could tell that here gaze would remain unchanged by my plea for independence. It was clear to me that my fate had been sealed: inside of a dilapidated blue Ford, now rusted by its eternal battle against time. It was an object that I had grown to despise, since we found it four days ago.
As we chugged along in our newfound vehicle, I turned to the window, still sulking from my recent defeat. The houses. In my mind, a place that resides far from the material world I find myself in, I can still see the people I would ‘hang out’ with on the weekends, my friends. Further down the street, straining the vision of my eyes now, I pictured the other classmates that my friends and I would peer at from the safety of our group, nervous to engage with those that were not one of us. I was a shy boy back then. Looking back at it, it was nice to of had that choice. To choose to be alone. “Ironic”, I pondered in my head. In times long past, this street used to be so… Alive. Seeing it now, in reality, being plagued by such an empty and solitary atmosphere, served only to prove how different the world has been.
When the press first spoke of hints towards advancements in bacterial studies, people either weren’t fully aware of what that meant for them, or just weren’t in a position to care. I’m quite sure that, had the news stations mentioned the part where said ‘bacterial advancements’ had a tendency to break loose from safe containment and spread amongst us humans, wiping out practically all of our population (with few exceptions such as myself and mother), the common populace would of perhaps developed a more interesting opinion on the matter. Though I myself also didn’t care back then, over the last four days, since the new microorganisms had spread over our small town and killed most of our population, I had begun to show interest in the way that the ‘sickness’ (as we’d been calling it for the last few days) worked.
My mother was a good woman, and I didn’t want to bring her down by mentioning her old job as a bacterial scientist, along with its details. People had poked fun of her in the past, because she wasn’t “something normal” like a doctor or a teacher. While even I had felt a little embarrassed when asked what my mum did for work, my survival was a testament to the perks of her job. If those teasing classmates of mine were still around, maybe they would’ve been a little more accepting. I chuckled to myself. Despite wanting to remain polite, I began to question and prod my mother over the course of the journey we were taking about specific details regarding the disease.
Seeing as there wasn’t a government to label the information as ‘Classified’, I knew I could eventually get what I wanted. Obvious facts like deaths were broadcasted on the news, way back when. I wanted the more… Gruesome trivia that surrounded the ‘sickness’. Following 10 minutes of asking, only to receive denied requests, Mother turned to me and sighed. She had given in.
“Fine…” She began.
Mother turned away from me briefly, coughing heavily and wiping a layer of sweat that had appeared on her head. She turned back to me with a smile, assuring me that it was just a cough.
“Brown spots and will form, along with swelling, not long before death.”
I could hear the eventual, but definitely existing rise in speed within Mother’s breathing patterns.
“It’s passed on through a variety of transmission methods, so we were never sure how to fully prevent infection.”
She paused again, this time to scratch at her neck, quite intensely, I moved closer to her, to examine whatever rash or insect bite that was causing Mother so much distress. She raised her hand quickly, to stop me. As I obliged and began resting against the back of the chair once again, she let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps this ‘rash’ wasn’t hurting as much. Or maybe… She was glad that I hadn’t seen it. Before I could fully consider what pressure had been released with that sigh, Mother continued.
“It’s very easily hidden. You wouldn’t notice it on somebody else until they said so, or...”
Before she could finish that sentence, the car began to slow down.
I looked to the window once again, ready to examine my new location. Much to my surprise, it looked like… No, it was where we had left off from. The exact same place that the Ford had departed from a good 40 minutes ago. I turned to Mother, hoping for a great explanation for such a waste of time. I received only a smile. Slightly weak, with now greying lips, but it was a face I trusted. Mother ushered me to step out, and so, with trust still being considered, I stepped out of the car. Confused, I thought to myself, waiting for her to exit with me, what the purpose of such a trip was. She didn’t need to drive us around a dead town just to explain the ‘sickness’ to me. I turned to close the door behind m-
The car door slammed shut. Without my doing.
Mother wasn’t the type to play silly jokes like this, and she knew that these things irritated me. I lowered myself to look into the car window.
The same smile, looking more peaceful now, stared back at me.
I didn’t know what to do. Paranoia began to set in as a realised that the car door was actually locked, and Mother said nothing. Just that blank, stupid smile plastered across her face, as it had been for at least the last minute. I attempted to pull open the door once again when…
Movement. Mother was slowly extending her arm out towards me. Perhaps to open the car door? I went to hurl out an insult for her scaring me like that, when her scarf began to slowly fall from her neck. It floated elegantly through the air, and that’s when I noticed.
The brown markings on her neck were unmistakable.
Frantic now, I clawed for the car door to open. No good. I threw my arm against the window, ready to smash it down and reclaim the only person who was important to me on this deceased planet. No use. She laid against the opposite window now, eyes closed. Her smile, remaining across her now pale skin, finished the explanation for me. The one detail she didn’t get time to speak of, now portrayed in her image.
I closed my eyes. The last person I cared about had just left me. The light in her eyes dimmed, a symbol of my newfound solitude in this dark world. I muttered under my breath. The last piece of information about this ‘sickness’.
“It’s painless. Definitely slow, but painless.”