“What’s with all the traffic?” I exclaimed more to myself than anyone else. I always talk to myself in the car. I often yelled at other drivers who were in my way. Naturally, it was solely for my own entertainment and not meant for others to actually hear. A defense mechanism against road insanity, I suspect. Mel mostly ignored my exclamations unless directed at her. The eastbound lane was blocked with traffic, backed up half a mile out. Not unusual to see traffic backed up. A big private school sits on the east side of the expressway with a large stadium. Game night and an accident would be enough to clog everything.
“Something really big is happening up by the hospital,” Mel said. The police were all over the place directing traffic and keeping order.
“It’s the school. They might have a big game tonight.”
“All these people want to go to a high school game? School’s not even in session.” Mel snapped back. Naturally, Mel was right. She was always right. Best not to argue with her. It was a losing proposition.
It could take an hour to go the quarter mile we needed to travel eastbound to our neighborhood.
“Better go the back way.” Mel said. I already had made that decision. The back way was take the westbound exit, then south to get around the snarl, then back east via an overpass to get around the expressway.
A cop was blocking the way at the light where we had to turn to go east. He motioned me to continue straight. I rolled down the window to discuss it.
“Only local residents allowed sir.” He looked tired.
“We live down that road. We’re local.”
“I need to see your ID.”
Mel had already pulled it. She was always on top of things.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He checked it with a flashlight. “You’re clear to turn left. Move along.” He handed back Mel’s ID, and we moved along as instructed.
“That was weird. That’s never happened before.” Mel looked at me like I said something obvious that didn’t deserve a comment. She was too tired to bother anyway. Flying takes a lot out of her. She got a bit snippy when she was tired.
The road passed back over to the east side of expressway where we lived. As we crossed over, I could see cars backed up solidly in both directions.
“Jeez. What a mess.” I commented, again, mostly for my own entertainment. I-240 was legendary for stupid traffic. They had been working on it for decades. We had a joke that working for the expressway authority was a career, not a job. Every time they’d finish a section, they’d just rip it up the next year and start over.
The rest of the way was clear. As we drove up to the house, I got a bit annoyed.
“The lawn hasn’t been mowed since we left. I’m getting a little sick of those guys.” We were always having trouble with the lawn service. This was our third one in the last four years.
“Give them a chance. They’ll get to it.”
“Why don’t we just hire the company our neighbors across the street use? They’re always there every Wednesday without fail?” This was an ongoing battle between Mel and I. She liked using small companies where the owner did the work. I was tired of them becoming incompetent then failing and wanted to use one of the larger commercial services that had dozens of crews. They might cost a little more, but they were dependable.
“Don’t worry about it. They’ll get it done. They’ve been pretty reliable this year. Maybe it rained on their day.” Mel wouldn’t give in.
“Maybe. The lawn looks terrible. I hate having the worst yard in the neighborhood.”
The garage door went up smoothly, revealing Mel’s prize, an SL63 AMG. That was a nice car. It was blue with a white interior. We bought it only last year. It was “lightly used” like every car we’ve purchased. That’s a great way to save money. Only fools bought new cars. The smart money bought cars that had been turned back into the dealer after a year. Savings of up to forty percent could be had on high end models by simply giving up the idea that a new car was needed. Three months after buying a new car, it drops by a huge amount. Why suffer that loss when we could profit from others being foolish?
The cats were waiting at the back door and very happy to see us home again. When the garage door opened, it caused the security system to chime, and the cats knew that meant people-hopefully Mel-would be coming into the house soon. They had been by themselves for the last two weeks, minus a visit from a friend who was scheduled to stop by after the first week to refresh their food bowls and water and, of course, empty their cat boxes, one for each cat. We had automatic feeders on the fish tanks, and the cats could take care of themselves for long periods of time.
The first thing Emi did was head to the piano. She loved to play and was quite good. Mel was brought up to understand that ladies of refinement knew certain things, and one of them was how to play the piano. She took lessons from an early age, and Emi was going to follow in her footsteps. To Mel, the piano was a pastime. It was a duty. She could play, but her playing was less than inspiring.
Emi was a natural musician. From her earliest lessons, her teachers told us she had it in her to be something special. We had a music room in the front of the house with a grand piano and comfortable seating. We had a piano at the island too, but it was just an upright, and the sound from that didn’t compare to her grand instrument and acoustically perfect room. Her playing spread cheer throughout the house.
“Daddy, it’s way too hot upstairs. There’s hot air blowing out of the vents. My room’s like an oven.” Uh oh. That sucked. The upstairs A/C was a piece of crap and nearly twenty years old. We were going to replace it but wanted to time that with an upgrade to the third floor. I was trying to squeeze a few months more life out of the unit so it could be replaced during the fall.
“I’ll take a look at it, probably something burned out.” I was a born fixer. I could fix anything that broke. When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to hire anyone to repair things and certainly couldn’t just go out and buy new stuff when it broke, so it was left to me to take care of everything from clocks, to appliances, clothing, shoes, and the always-near-death car. I still am a fixer. I cannot help myself. If it breaks, I’m going to try and fix it even though we can hire people to do it now.
“I want to help.” Emi liked to participate in virtually everything I did.
“Sure, grab a flashlight, and I’ll get some tools. Meet me by the sunroom door.”
We went out with a flashlight, opened up the piece of crap compressor unit, and I saw immediately what the problem was.
“Do you see anything odd?” I asked Emi.
“There’s a wire burned out and not connected to that big metal cylinder. It looks like the top melted a bit too. Is that the problem?” She was pretty good at noticing things.
“What do you think would fix it?”
“I’d say replace the burned wire and attach it back to the metal cylinder thingy, whatever it is. It might be ruined though.”
“That’s a capacitor. If it was ruined, it would likely be bulging out. It looks fine, otherwise. Let’s fix the wire and see if that does it.” I was pretty confident nothing else was wrong.
I guessed the cause was a preventive maintenance job that Mel had bought a coupon for a week before we left on our vacation. The guy came around and checked all our equipment for problems and essentially told me what I already knew. The unit was crap and at the end of its life. Sixty bucks thrown down the tubes. He caused this problem by pulling the wire from the capacitor to test it and not cleaning the terminal when he put it back together. The corrosion on the terminal caused additional resistance, which eventually caused the wire to burn out. Naturally, it happened when we weren’t here. Emi and I made a new wire with terminal ends from the parts I had in the shop. In ten minutes the unit was working again. Who knows how much we would have been charged for a professional to repair that small problem. They never just wanted to replace a wire. He would have probably wanted to replace every silly box in the compressor at a cost of a thousand dollars. For less than a dime in parts and ten minutes of trouble, we were up and running again. It pays to know a thing or two about the mechanical stuff in the home.
Mel was cleaning the fish tanks when we finished. Two weeks was the limit for the fish before the tanks needed attention. It was laborious but something Mel seemed to enjoy. Her job was complex, stressful, and detailed. The simple job of fish maintenance was cathartic. Emi beamed to her about our success, and I told Mel with pride how Emi had spotted the problem and diagnosed the repair. Mel was pleased but not overly surprised. She knew we could repair virtually anything.
It had been a long tiring day, and we crashed out early. The upstairs had started to cool off, and Emi’s room was livable again. Emi was still on summer break. School didn’t start for weeks. We could have stayed longer on the island, but Mel had to keep her schedule.
Mel had an early show the next morning and was gone by the time I got up. I found a little note on my coffee maker that Mel had left made from a page from her prescription pad, folded over so it would stand up. On the outside, was written “Ronnie” in her special calligraphy handwriting that she learned at the fancy private school she attended as a child. People just don’t write like that anymore. They print things out from the computer instead. Mel had a knack for it. Inside, it said simply “I love you XOXOXO!” in her regular hand. I still have that note.
Emily and I went about our morning routine.
“Daddy, my tablet isn’t working!” Emi was irked.
“What did you do this time?”
“Nothing! It just won’t connect. The internet must be down again.”
No TV, either. We had constant problems with cable, so not unusual. I switched to the backup internet which was cell based, and it seemed really slow, too slow for Emi to watch online videos.
“All we have is the cell internet. You’re going to have to give up on the tablet.”
“You have to call the cable company. I’ve been two weeks without any internet.”
“Sure, honey. Go do something else.” I’d do that when hell froze over. It was pointless to call. It would take an hour to navigate their automated phone tree, and the results were always the same. They’d call back to schedule a technician to visit. Pointless. By that time, someone else in the neighborhood with more patience would have complained. We had a love/hate relationship with the cable company. We loved to hate them. No alternative here. If we wanted high speed internet, we had to use them. No other company offered it in this area. Not enough home density for them to deal with us, I suppose. We heard promises of fiber coming to the city, but the project was behind schedule, and it was unlikely they would ever get to us. If they did, we’d cut the cord. Until then, it was cable or nothing.
Emi needed her screen time fix. The DVR box didn’t need a live connection to watch shows that had already been saved, so recorded episodes of Shark Tank filled that need. She loved that show. She was a born entrepreneur like her grandpa and a top performer in her class. She was top in grades and taller than most of the boys. Stronger too. How many ten-year-olds can do a one-handed pull up? She’d been in gymnastics since she was three and had hands that were heavy with callouses. I joked to her that if there was a revolution, she would be spared because they always execute the intellectuals. Those with calloused hands are never killed.
Most modern people are glued to the internet and social media. Not us. The only people I cared about who sent me emails were Mel and Emi. I only used the internet to get news and research things with Google. We were sort of an antisocial media family. Even Emi avoided it. Mel had a Facebook page, but only to communicate Emi’s progress with her Mom and coworkers. Emi’s friends were on some of those services, but we looked down on her spending a lot of time trying to keep up with that crap. In our eyes, social media was for time-wasting fools. It never really accomplished anything except to make people feel bad about themselves.
I finally got around to turning on my cell phone, and a string of messages from our neighbor poured in. I left my phone at home when we went on trips since it was useless on the island. I had nobody to call anyway. The texts were confusing…
“Don’t come home.”
“Did you get my message? Stay where you are. It’s nuts here.”
“We’re leaving town before the roads clog up.”
“Are you there?”
I had no indication when they were sent since my phone had been powered off. My next door neighbor, Michael, always knew what was going on. Panic wasn’t in his nature. He had relatives in the police department and local government and always knew the actual story when everyone else was trading rumors. If I wanted to know the truth regarding something happening locally, I’d ask him. He owned several retail stores around town and was amazingly good at reading human nature. I sent him a text back and received no answer. He must have been out of cell range.
I went to the news online and was startled at the reports coming in. Large cities around the world were experiencing a bizarre epidemic that was spreading rapidly. The hospitals were starting to get saturated and people were getting really sick. Some deaths had occurred, but the situation wasn’t too alarming yet. I could only imagine what Mel might be overloaded with now. I tried calling, but no answer. Not unusual for her. My calls often went to voicemail when she was working. The traffic clog last night must have had something to do with this: people heading to the hospital as Mel had figured.
That’s when it all began to unravel for me, when I realized what was truly going on. The news reports on the internet indicated the military in a foreign country had contracted with a failing US biotech to create a way to pacify some of the local population by infecting them with a genetically modified pathogen. The goal was to produce obedient, compliant people who could still do the meager work they did, without complaining, striking, and causing a ruckus. They were experimenting on political prisoners when a test subject escaped their control. The local population was the first affected. They went ballistic and raided the lab. I saw the confession of the chief scientist on a video streaming service that had been posted a few days prior. I’ll never forget the poor bastard saying, “I’m so sorry…” before they crudely and graphically hacked off his head with a machete.
It hit me that the news reports didn’t even mention that this was an absolute horror of human rights violations. Had such things become so commonplace it was now acceptable? Civilized society had really soured in the last couple of years. People who would have been shunned for their obvious transgressions were celebrated and elected to major offices. Shouting and insulting had become the norm. Logic and truth were thrown to the wind. All civility had vanished, and now we were going to pay the price. Maybe the world deserved this. It reminded me loosely of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I learned Bible stuff from the movies, not from a church. Maybe not a proper reference.
The biotech company was familiar to me. I had maintained an investment account for years and did fairly well with it, then again, so did virtually everyone who was careful and did their homework. The firm responsible for this mess had been a darling of Wall Street a while back. They had several promising products in the pipeline for treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s that caused their stock to skyrocket. Their trials were looking good, and the treatments were being fast-tracked to approval when it was discovered that much of the data had been manipulated to hide horrific side effects. The stock plummeted. I almost invested in them, but something just didn’t seem right to me. The old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” held me back. Got lucky there.
I downloaded a report on the disease which had received the nickname “Human Dog Disease” or HDD from the CDC.
The “Human Dog” Disease (HDD) is a military biological weapon created in a commercial laboratory. It was originally intended as a means to pacify populations while leaving them able to perform useful work and care for themselves. HDD escaped the lab and jumped into the general population due to a miscalculation and a lack of oversight by the lab procedures and personnel who were responsible. Unfortunately, none of those involved in the creation, nor any of their work, survived the fire and destruction of the facility that followed the accidental release.
HDD is transmitted when an infected person has direct bodily contact with an uninfected person, and the pathogen is passed from one to the other. HDD can also be spread by indirect contact with an infected person’s environment or personal items. The presence of wound drainage or other discharges from the body increases the potential for risk of transmission and environmental contamination. The infection can be waterborne as well.
Immunity appears to result from genetic heritage and travels within families. If both parents are immune, the children are immune as well. If one parent is immune, the children have a 50-50 chance of being immune. If both parents are not immune, all children are not immune. Immunity to HDD is fairly rare. The only immunity test is by exposure to the pathogen. Immune people cannot transmit HDD and are not carriers.
Signs and Symptoms
Those infected with HDD become contagious quickly and before symptoms develop. Symptoms start eight to twelve days after HDD infection. The first indication of disease is subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding from the eyes) followed by high fever and rapid incapacitation. Symptomatic individuals remain extremely contagious until illness passes or for several days to a week after death.
Symptoms include subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding from the eyes) and severe conjunctivitis (bloodshot eyes), loss of appetite, high fever, coma, and death. Infected individuals who do not succumb to HDD have amnesia, lose the ability to use complex tools, and cannot communicate verbally.
There is no known treatment other than palliative care. Nearly all who are infected will perish within two weeks of infection regardless of care.
Practicing good hand hygiene and sanitization is an effective method in preventing the spread of dangerous pathogens like HDD. Chlorine bleach, UV light, sunlight, high heat, dry conditions, and several hours exposure to the environment will render the microorganism inert. High humidity and cool weather will prolong the life of the pathogen. Extreme caution is urged to prevent transmission of HDD.
Avoid the following:
- Contact with blood and body fluids (such as urine, feces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids).
- Bites and scratches by infected individuals that break the skin.
- Items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).
- Funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who died from HDD.
Infectious agents coming in contact with mucous membranes or open cuts, scratches, and wounds of the uninfected will transmit the disease. Use of protective garments, eye shields, masks, and gloves should be practiced whenever contact with infected individuals is anticipated.
The HDD pathogen is easily rendered inert through careful precautions.
A small percentage of those infected remain asymptomatic carriers (AC) and are infectious for the remainder of their lives. The only known symptom is degradation of short term memory. Visually, they show no obvious signs of being a carrier. Screen suspected AC’s with a repetitive string of numbers or words (ex: “cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, and pickle”). Those that can repeat the string cannot be AC’s. However, failing the test may just be due to a lower than normal intelligence or stress rather than infection. Since AC’s are highly infectious and there is no other tests available, it is advisable to isolate those that fail the screen from the non-infected.
Unfortunately, the city where the prison was located also served as a large cargo hub for air freight. The pilots who flew those planes bid for that city because of the large brothels and cheap booze located there. In the time it took for the disease to start showing symptoms, hundreds of pilots from all over the world traveled through those establishments. The disease was spread by contact with human fluids like urine, feces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids, which are commonly exchanged in brothels and bars. It was easily transmitted so virtually every pilot was infected. They brought the disease home where they spread it to their family, friends, coworkers, and everyone else they came into direct or indirect contact.
There was no treatment. If there was a vaccine, it was lost when the locals burned down the lab. None of the scientists or their work survived the riot and fire. The only thing that could be done for those who were infected was to take care of their symptoms, which were quite extensive. Fever, coma, and then death. The strong lasted longer, the weak died quicker. Virtually everyone under the age of fifteen or over forty died. Those in between had a chance to survive, but the effects of the disease were quite dramatic.
Memphis was in the heart of the cargo business so we were hard hit. The hospitals were overflowing with sick. Hardly anyone had died yet as the disease took a while to do its dirty work. From the time of infection to signs of illness averaged ten days. They were infectious the entire time. Soon after the first symptoms, the infected were incapacitated. The hospitals couldn’t cope, and they were overwhelmed.
How did the CDC come up with all this information so quickly? The report was amazingly complete and detailed. I suspected that they already knew something before the disease was released. If there were any conspiracy theorists left, they must have been having a field day.
“When is Mommy coming home?” I heard that a lot the first day. Mel hadn’t come home from the hospital. Hardly any point in coming home. It was all hands on deck, and I certainly understood why. That was just Mel. Once she got to work, all she thought about was her job, and we were a secondary concern. Understanding didn’t mean I had to like it. This time it was different. The entire world was going away, and her place should have been here, with us, with the people she loved. Her daughter needed her. I needed her. I was angry toward her selfish attitude.
The only actual radio we had was in the car, and I tried that to see if I could hear any local news. The few stations that were still broadcasting all had the same dreary recording. Keep off the streets, stay home, remain calm, don’t go to the hospital, yada yada yada. No useful information. The emergency broadcast system was a dud.
I had a rough time getting Emi to go to bed. She had a million questions that I simply couldn’t answer. All I could do was reassure her that we were going to be alright and that her mother would be coming back soon. I barely slept at all. Who could? The entire world had just gone to hell, and we were faced with an uncertain future. A few days before, we were rich, set for life and our biggest worries were about the most precious resource people like us have, their time. That had changed radically to basic survival. Food, water, shelter and safety. Wow. My brain was going a mile a second until I finally dozed off a few hours before dawn.
We went out the second day to see what we could find at the stores. Emi didn’t want to stay home by herself. It was better we stick together. We wore gloves and masks for protection. The roads were empty and quiet. The trucks weren’t rolling anymore either. The only food and supplies in the city were already on store shelves, and no more was coming. The stores were open, but nobody was working. No one at the checkout. Nobody at all in the store except one hurried individual dressed like us with gloves and mask, picking through what was left of civilization. He eyed me and I eyed him. No conversation was passed but I got the indication that he wasn’t a threat. Got some basics like flour, sugar, oil, dried beans, and black rice.
It curious that the black rice was still available. We love the stuff. It’s got a very good taste and can be eaten without any gravy or added flavorings. Forty-five minutes in the steamer and presto-instant healthy dish. I guess nobody noticed it was there. I got all that was left, ten pounds at least. They’d be good later when things got really bad. We found no canned items at all, not even dog food. I took all the flour and sugar too. I guess people skipped over things that needed actual cooking. We picked up calories and fiber, no real protein. We’d be eating a lot of baked goods in the coming weeks. Emi was fine with the stores being empty. To me, it was a shock. The usual hustle and bustle, fighting for a good parking space, and rushing to the best checkout were gone. The store was like a graveyard.
When we got back from the store, the internet was dead. That was it. The internet was fragile and depended on a lot of people doing their jobs reliably every day. Now that things were breaking down, the first to go were the pinnacles of civilization. Cell phones too. Same reason. People needed to be working at their jobs to keep this modern infrastructure intact. We still had power, water, and natural gas, but for how long?
People were going to get hungry. The average American simply didn’t cook and relied on quick and easy options. No more fast food. That would be enough to cause a major breakdown. How long would that take? I remembered reading back when I was younger, “America is only three meals away from chaos.” Well, it had been much more than three meals, and pretty soon, it could get ugly. Hungry people with violent intent would be roving the streets looking for anything to eat. Hungry people are unhinged people. The thin veneer of civilization is stripped away by hunger.
The disease had spread like wildfire. We were lucky to miss the first days when people didn’t know what was happening. By the time we got home, the worst of it had passed. People were hunkering down or had evacuated if they had some place to go. It reminded me of Miami right before a hurricane hits.
Emi and I spent our time just keeping quiet. Emi had watched every show on the DVR and was reading now. She followed me from room to room, not speaking much and not letting me out of her sight. She seemed to understand the world may be changing and was just doing the human thing, ignore it and it will go away. Kids are incredibly resilient and able to relax and cope a lot better than adults.
I tried to show a calm demeanor and be strong but was feeling panicked. I didn’t know what to do so the best I could was to sit and stare. I was in between shock and panic. Unable to do anything useful but think about all the possible scenarios. Emi didn’t seem to notice, or if she did, ignored it as a self-defense mechanism. I kept wondering if Mel was okay? Did she even make it to work? It had been three full days without a single word from her. If she did make it, why didn’t she come home? She could have at least sent had someone call us if she was too busy to bother. The landline still worked, but when I called the hospital, I got only a recording, asking people to remain calm and stay in their homes. The same crap as on the radio. Mel’s phone was as dead as every other cell. I considered driving over to her hospital and finding out for myself. That was an impossible fantasy. It risked my life as well as my daughter’s, and I wouldn’t risk Emi. Instead, I just brooded and swallowed my apprehension, anxiety, and animosity.