By Anne Nassar
It took your breath, but not before it ate away your flesh. The time between when you first
discovered a weeping blister on your skin, and your death, was approximately two weeks.
During that interval, the sores would multiply and fester. Your fingers, toes and nose would turn
black and gangrenous. Blood would flow from your mouth and rectum until you went into shock.
Your release from the vile prison of your body would soon follow.
The exact mechanism of transmission was unknown. Or, if it was known, it was kept secret..
According to the Health Department, anyone exhibiting symptoms was required to report to the
nearest hospital, where they would receive treatment. But treatment, it was rumored, was a
syringe full of poison and a gurney ride to the furnace.There were no survivors.
There were, however, people who ought to have contracted the plague, who didn’t – people who
had nursed or copulated with or buried, victims.This gave rise to unreasoning hope and magical
thinking.Misinformation spread like wildfire. You were safe if you had had the chickenpox. You
were safe if you ate raw garlic. You were safe if you drank vodka. It was said that the immune
were aliens, transhuman, God’s chosen ones.
Those with immunity were subjected to capture and experimentation. They were murdered for
their blood, which was the main ingredient in an elixir that commanded a high price.
Those who would inherit the earth were obliged to hide themselves amongst the diseased.
When Marta woke, at dawn, to the sound of hammers and drills, she knew that the building had
been quarantined. The doors and windows were being sealed up, and everyone inside was
condemned. Out in the hallway, her neighbors were howling, screaming. But she felt calm.
Death had always been an option for her. She was relieved that the decision had been made for
her. Her phone still worked. She carefully proofread her African Diasporic Literature in America
paper – after all, it was her last testament – and submitted it, along with a brief note to the
professor, which read:I will unable to attend class, due to circumstances beyond my control.
Then, she called her friends, all three of them.
Hanna cried. Mike begged her to try and escape. Riyada’s number was no longer in service.
She took out the bottle of Codeine that she had been saving ever since her surgery. There were
ten pills in it – more than enough, she thought.
She brewed herself some mint tea. Just as the teapot whistled, a text came in. It was from
Professor Washburn.Marta, they did a shit job of trapping you – they forgot about the chimney.