Another sampling from The Vision and Other Tales.
Picture your most hated teacher from high school. Then picture your favorite. Now picture them both armed with sharp pencils, compasses and pots and pans from the cafeteria to survive what has happened to most of the population of students around them.
Combine the oldest living bacteria on the planet with several barrels of a banned pesticide stored in a salt mine and surviving high school suddenly comes down to who went on the field trip and who didn’t.
First Entry. Here’s what happened: a bunch of sneaks with an exterminating company didn’t know what else to do so they decided to store ninety pallets of barrels containing an herbicide that got banned (much worse than the creeping kudzu it was created to kill) in an underground storage facility, otherwise known as ‘the old salt mine’ in Hutchinson, Kansas. A few of the barrels began to leak and what leaked found its way into the world’s oldest living organism, 250 million-year-old bacteria trapped in salt crystals buried all those thousands of feet below the surface. The combined nastiness was subtle, but irreversibly effective. It infected all who utilized the salt mines, everyone from visiting boy scout troops to foreign government employees who delivered files kept in steel safes, corporate employees dropping off storage reports by the truck load, and hundreds of touristy people that showed up for daily bus tours of the mine. It took almost two years for the CDC to figure out the source of the infection, which slyly delayed showing up in the host once introduced, but within that time everyone either knew someone with it or had been exposed to it.
The infection didn’t act like other bugs. Because of the incredi-spread characteristic of the herbicide, combined with the resiliency of the ancient bacteria, it was able to attach to any cell to replicate then swiftly mutated in ways too tricky to catch. The weirdest part was it didn’t kill anyone; it just screwed up their brains, the amygdala in particular.
Once the infection was recognized things went down pretty quickly, with a serious skins versus shirts culture created virtually overnight in the media, like the Japanese bura-hara (people getting discriminated against because of their blood type) only not so much having to do with blood, though similar ratio-wise in the population when it came to numbers infected, say like with nearly all of the O’s being infected and the A’s, B’s and A-B’s not so much. Let’s face it, the Amygdala-Altered, or the Am-A as they’re known, has the numbers and those of us with natural immunity are now labeled a minority group. Once the scales began to tip in favor of the infected, the Am-A began to wonder what the hell was wrong with the rest of us since they believe themselves superior as a result of the alteration induced by the infection.
Bacteria-bunged up brains and all.
But okay it did make them different, mainly in the sense of wiping out their emotions and leaving them virtually unafraid. Just the ‘no fear’ part alone made the infected kids into human machines. Think of it like this, when you’re a kid what makes you behave? Fear of getting spanked or fear of disappointing your dad or fear of not getting that new game system so you could go Wii all the way home. No more fear. Zip. It produced some chilly little bastards, tiny peeps that stare you down and spit in challenge while walking into the street right in front of your speeding car.
Aggressive, too…and fast. Apparently having emotions slows us down in all kinds of ways we never imagined before the Am-A showed us what it was like to be without them. Good sense of smell too. A person can always tell when he’s the only non-infected in the room when all the Am-A are lifting their heads and sniffing.
Before we knew it they were rounding us Non-I (non-infected) up and sending us different places. Yeah, in case that sounds familiar to you, it is in fact a lot like the Japanese thing and the Holo-you-know-what that according to most Am-A never actually occurred. Whatever. It began on both coasts then on the borders and finally circled into the middle of the continent where the last of us have been living free and watching in stupefied awe as history writes itself across what used to be a pretty cool country. If I was a scientist, physicist or a tech they would have laid hands on me first, like they did all the others. Don’t know what they did with them. Don’t even want to think about it. They do want me though, because I’m a science teacher and because I’ve been spreading a theory about them. They don’t like the sound of it. They don’t like the implications, so I’m basically fucked. But I’ll keep yapping about it until they get me.
See, early on I figured out something: Those Am-A don’t get it on very much. No parking, petting, sparking or spanking. They just don’t get around to it. Seems losing all those emotions also took some of the old drive to reproduce along with it (yes, both the Oprah network and Jerry Springer re-runs went off the air within nine months of the outbreak, quickly followed by the Lifetime channel.) What this means is obvious and I’ve been telling everyone with ears to hear that if we can wait them out then the naturally feeling people will once again run the earth. The Am-A deny it of course and broadcast their purist propaganda on the internet about how they’re just being careful, with selective breeding in a zero population plan that will save the planet. They also boast about there being no more wars or famine, damn little crime, and how wonderfully everyone is treating each other. They say if there were no more feeling people left there would be no crime at all. To which I’ve replied in a blistering blog, Want some fries with that soma, buddy?
But there is no soma compound. It’s just speedy, agile, graceful Them and clubfooted by comparison Us and it wouldn’t bother us so much if they didn’t look so damned happy. Granted, they don’t laugh or giggle, but they do smile a lot, feline-like, and the smiles don’t seem faked like the professional liar-finders look for. I know what they tell themselves. They tell themselves they have naturally evolved to a species the earth can tolerate, naturally by means of man-made poison mated with earth-made bacteria, constituting an agreement between the two to play Rodney King‘s favorite tune all the live long day. Well screw unfeeling them, I say. I want things back the way they were. Back when I wasn’t hiding out in the building I used to drive to work in every day. Back when I could shower in a real bathroom and not just dunk my parts in a sink. Back when I used to enjoy the skylight above me and not have to scurry along the walls so a satellite can’t detect me.
Right now life sucks for this science teacher—which could be part of the reason it didn’t bother me as much as it should have when I killed the Am-A kid. There was no emotion on his face as it happened, just a weird kind of Dang, you got me look like you’d see in laser tag, but not even that really. And yeah, it was a former student of mine, Brett something, who figured out where a bunch of us Non-I are hiding, and decided to come back to school for some extra credit. I realized too late he was a scout and dangerous things follow when you take out a scout who has let others know where he’ll be scouting. It ain’t like a tiger got him.
Although I did think of tigers getting him, tanks mostly. Every kid, well, every Non-I boy grows up thinking about battle strategy at some point in his pre-pubic hood. My dad watched a lot of MacGyver reruns when I was little which could be why I decided science was cool to begin with. Wish I was a little more like MacGyver now. I could turn the Bunsen burners in the chemistry lab into flamethrowers or some cool shit. I could if I had gas anyway. Instead I took out the Am-A scout with a bent, rusty compass attached to the end of a yardstick. Lame, I know, but effective. Really says something about the need for better supplies in all our schools though.
Lydia is signaling she wants the pen and some of my paper. God knows what she’s going to write. It was my idea to start this record of our take on things.
My name is Lydia Wilde and I know Eric isn’t going to give me credit for pouring the oil that made the Am-A slip and fall, so I’m going to write it here. Being ‘the man’, a lot of us thought the Lord of Science would come up with better ideas about weapons and defense. He’s turning out to be pretty worthless. Okay, I admit I was into him when I first started working here and for like two years couldn’t think about anyone or anything else but I’m realizing now that most of that was the desperately want who doesn’t want you syndrome.
So anyway I’m definitely over him now and am seeing all sorts of crap that would have made me miserable if we ever had hooked up. I mean, what a puss. A spear made out of a yardstick and a compass? Really? When we saw him making that thing I looked at the other girls and told them I was headed for the cafeteria. Not only did I find actual weapons like knives and some bad-ass iron cookware, I also found gallons of cooking oil. When I knew the Am-A scout saw me and was slipping into the hall to come after me I led him toward the math wing and opened up one of the jugs of cooking oil once I got around the corner. Sure enough he came fast and hard, ready to zap me with his taser and instead found himself going feet over elbows into the air and landing hard on his back with a loud kind of cartoon oof that brought Eric and the others running out.
I will give Eric credit for getting the Am-A in the right spot on the neck before he could yell into his Bluetooth. Eric stabbed hard and fast and the kid bled out pretty quick. The look on Eric’s face was priceless, sort of half-awed half-disgusted. Even though the kid was maybe fifteen I doubt any of us could have bested him in physical conflict.
Whereas we get only spurts of adrenaline when we seriously need it, the Am-A get a steady supply of it and it makes them incredibly strong. I did feel a little sad when I saw who it was, a grandson of the people who live next door to my parents. God knows where any of them are. I know my mom was a Non-I and the last communication I received was a text message telling me ‘they’re here’. I think my dad is Am-A.
Not that he ever felt much anyway.
That’s the thing about Am-A adults, they’re already accustomed to masking emotion so seeing them without it is not that big a deal. It’s the kids that weird me out. There is nothing creepier (and that includes any YouTube disfigurement or plastic surgery gone bad) than an emotionless little girl. I mean what is a little girl but one frolicking bundle of smiles, pouts and high-pitched emotions? Little girls without them are just, well, evil.
The good part of being Am-A I guess is that they feel no need to drink or take drugs or even smoke cigarettes. Everything that made them want to has been erased or eradicated or just turned off by the infection. It really makes you start thinking about what our purpose might be, or the purpose of anything that walks, slithers, hops, swings, crawls…breathes basically. I’m a gym teacher so I’m all for the no-drinking or smoking but I always understood why a lot of people found it necessary to alter their consciousness with external applications of probably toxic substances. They do it because life sucks. True, it sucks less some days than on others, but what is it but a combination of days lived in a struggle to hold up, keep up, step up, fess up, live up to a bunch of expectations instilled in us from birth by the circumstantial accidents that conspired in our conception and periodically render us helpless in the acne-scarred face of our own idiocy?
Wow, this is getting way more serious than I intended when I asked for the pen, and that someone-please-tell-me-what-to-do-next ‘man‘ is motioning to have it back. He wants to give it to the French teacher. Naturally. Okay, I like her too. We all like her. There’s just something really cool about her and always has been. She was my French teacher when I came to school here. With Eric it’s more like worship. Maybe it’s the accent, I don’t know. God, is this turning into a scene from Sartre or what? No Exit for real. She cares about him, who cares about her, who cares about…okay, never mind, she is French but she’s probably not into that.
I am Mariel Lyon and I have been asked to write down my thoughts and impressions as a record of sorts for those who survive us. My initial feeling persists and it was and is this, what an exciting time to be alive and to witness the evolution of a species, for this without a doubt is what is happening, though the others here liken it more to a zombie survival movie. This is not accurate as Eric and I have discussed. Unfortunately he sees the acknowledgment of evolution at work as partly propaganda on the part of the Am-A. I see it as actual truth. They are superior to us in every way. I am the sole dissenter when it comes to the killing of Am-A that discover us. I believe we should capture them instead and attempt to learn something before our less than glorious exit, for that is to be our fate I am certain. Eric’s notion of waiting them out is well-intended, but weak. With each day that passes I begin to absorb more of the derisive attitude toward his ideas that Lydia now expresses. True, he is no leader. But neither is Lydia, primarily because she lacks confidence in what she is saying and I believe is trying to convince herself more than us. No, she is the wild card, unpredictable and possibly reckless. We shall see.
It’s strange how group dynamics fluctuate. When there were two males in our little band of students and educators we women by instinct deferred to the decision-making of the males and when they said do this or that we all tended to obey without question. By the end of the second week we were down to one male after Alfred the janitor had a heart attack in the auditorium and died. When the older, somehow more august male (yes the janitor) was gone we suddenly no longer recognized the remaining male, Eric, as an authority.
I’m not sure now we ever did. We’re simply ingrained from youth with the idea that someone has to be in charge and if Hollywood and Western society is correct it should be the male. Nature however has always operated differently. It’s not the stallion that leads the herd of mustangs but the dominant mare. She chooses which mares the stallions get to mate with and when. She is on constant patrol and lookout and indicates when to run and when to stop. In cattle it is similar, with a dominant cow deciding the same and leading the herd in grazing and daily movement. The dominant mares and cows are not the oldest or the strongest or anything but the ones who have somehow attained enough respect and intelligence to be looked upon as leader by the others.
That is not me, in case you’re thinking so as you read this. I am light comic relief. I make silly jokes in odd moments to keep things from turning too dark and to keep the moments themselves from falling under scrutiny. Unlike cows we are best not left to ruminate, and completely like cows its better to stun us when you kill us rather than let us drool in round-eyed horror as we glimpse the sickle and hood heading our direction, though of course as we’re not being eaten I can’t see that it matters whether our meat is tough and stringy with a bad taste. (A joke.) Imagine how the Am-A must taste, pumped full of adrenaline all the time. They must be quite inedible, which further demonstrates their superiority if even natural predators choose not to partake. (My grandfather was eaten by an alligator when he left France and moved to Florida. Not a joke.) I would love to be able to observe a lone Am-A jogger on a trail frequented by mountain lions. Something tells me the jogger’s biggest worry is going to be an uneven path or a loose shoelace and not cavernous cat jaws closing around a pulsing artery.
What I just wrote reminded me of the blood jetting out of the Am-A boy Eric killed, how it pooled into the oil on the floor and how all of us stood and stared as he died. I searched the faces of the others for guilt, remorse and found none. Lydia looked as if she wanted to kiss Eric for completing what she had set in motion. She’s still in love with him obviously but is fighting it tooth and nail because of his rejection of her. She’s channeling everything tender into spite and contempt.
He’s just a man, I want to tell her. Don’t let what he does or doesn’t feel affect how you perceive yourself. But even as I think it I know I’ll never say it, firstly because Eric isn’t really a man, doesn’t ever refer to himself as anything other than a guy and no doubt still thinks of himself in boyish terms, and because saying it wouldn’t help Lydia, who wants to hate me because of the attention he shows me but doesn’t yet, thankfully. In fact, as I read this I realize Lydia and Eric are perfect examples of what makes us what we are.
No wonder the Am-A want to kill us.
Lydia just left the room in a hurry. Janice from the office went after her and Carolyn from the math department is standing at the door saying something about deep Am-A penetration. The zombie movie lingo has taken a turn toward porn.
While they’re gone I’m taking the pen and stealing some paper. I’m the youngest one here and my real name is Marshall Edward Milton but everyone has called me Mimmy ever since I can remember. It’s even Mimmy on my school transcripts, which is probably why none of the teachers realize I’m actually a boy. I’ve been treated like a girl all my life, I guess because I act like one. My dad is a real manly guy, a beer-swigging load of testosterone with an actual set of truck nuts hanging from his mirror, but God somehow saw to it that he loves me anyway. My mom sort of did and sort of didn’t and the rest of the family never really knew what to say to me. Most of them are Am-A now. My dad is pretending to be.
He’s still out there somewhere and I know he’s all right because I got a text from him yesterday (I have about thirty cell phones that I’ve stolen from lockers and bags and purses and jackets, the service and the batteries work in about half of them.)
The day school ended here it was bad because they used a gas on everyone and the ones who weren’t affected, the Am-A, got to leave and they all go to school somewhere else now. Those who were affected they rounded up and hauled off somewhere. Lydia and Eric say they’re killing us, but I’m not so sure. My dad says he’s never seen any bodies. Not one. He says he’s coming for me as soon as he can make it here. They keep giving him routes to run and things to haul and he’s not sure any of them ever take a day off because none of them ever get sick or seem to need to rest, but he’s planning to come soon. He’s looking around for a different place to stash us since we’re running low on supplies here.
He knows we can’t text very much, they’re probably reading every word anyway and that’s how they keep finding us, but he keeps saying not to worry, that he’s on top of things and Oscar worthy when it comes to performance. I know he is. I’ve only ever seen him cry one time and that was when he had to shoot a big buck that he hit with his truck. The buck kept trying to get up but so many things were broken it couldn’t do anything but wrench its head back and forth and those big antlers were so heavy that pretty soon his tongue was just lolling. Dad couldn’t stand seeing it so he took his pistol from under the seat and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he shot the buck in the head.
When he got back in the truck he said, “A lot of things are meant to happen, this wasn’t one of them.” He cried for a few minutes before we drove on again. It didn’t really make sense to me because I know he’s hunted and killed things before, but I loved him for those tears.
Lydia and Ms. Lyon, (she’s the only one I still call by her teacher name for some reason) came back just now and told Eric the Am-A got Janice and Carolyn. Time to hide again I guess because those two will definitely talk. Lydia finds new hiding places for us all the time; we hid in air-tight equipment containers in the gym to get away from the gas. She thinks really fast and can talk even faster when she wants you to move it.
Out of everyone here she may be the only one who suspects I’m not what everyone thinks I am. No, it’s not because of the gym clothes, which are really baggy and I never changed in front of anyone ever so that was never an issue. I just think she’s smarter when it comes to sizing people up, like who’s going to be good in what position on a team. She just knows. She’s been getting really snippy with Eric lately, but I can see why. It’s like he deliberately drags his feet and draws out his sentences when he knows she’s expecting quick response. I’m starting to think he’s a real dick.
It’s like he read my mind because he suddenly wants his pen back. Yeah, in case anyone is wondering, there is only one working pen among all of us. In a high school every pen you find has been discarded by someone because it doesn’t work. People keep their working pens on their person.
Before I give this one back I need to say I lied about the deer, I mean what’s the point of lying now, right? It was actually my uncle, an Am-A, that Dad hit with his truck and then had to shoot.
Second Official Entry: As a science teacher I feel responsible for trying to figure out certain things about our oppressors. I have to think about the acceleration in activity of certain neurotransmitters and wonder if even the older of the Am-A have benefited from the alteration, or how it adjusts itself for age. The little girl and the post-menopausal woman both seem equally capable and I daresay ‘quick’ in comparison to their respective pre-infection abilities. So are the dopamine and the acetylcholine self-regulating as a benefit of the brain’s altered state? The pea-sized ovary in the child that becomes walnut-size in the child-bearing years and then by the age of retirement is pea-sized again has to have seen as much alteration by benefit of chemical flux as every other organ. So my theory of the non-reproductive tendencies of the Am-A would appear to be very solid, at least to my thinking at present, if in fact those neurotransmitters are so active they’ve sped organ development up to the point of inactivity. The top that spins so fast all you see is a solid blur, everything operating at maximum efficiency all day every day.
I can’t imagine the appetite this must create, and yet they don’t appear to eat more. I confess I haven’t spent much time in observation as I did not personally know any of the altered fuckheads.
Sorry, couldn’t help that after hearing how Janice and Carolyn got dragged off by their hair. The Am-Assholes are banging around out there right now, opening every locker in search of us. We’re good, snug, and I’m not going to say where because this might get out of my hands before I intend it to and then they’ll know where to look. Lydia just asked for the pen again after I’m done with it. If I sound petty about this it’s because I confess to feeling definite ownership when it comes to this ink and I feel like those of us with more important things to record should retain actual use. I know Mariel, for example, will always have lucid, illuminating commentary and make valuable observations.
Mimmy probably doodled something and those other two students, Brianna and Rachelle (just your average pair of teen snots) haven’t even asked for it. If we need commentary on how men suck and what a loser I am then Lydia’s our man, and I mean that literally. She doesn’t realize how off-putting it is when someone is so aggressively capable and in-your-face twenty-four seven about those capabilities. A guy doesn’t like it when a girl is better than him at sports, let alone every other fucking thing that somehow becomes a contest. She makes me feel like the biggest pussy in the world.
Holy crap that was close! A group of them just stopped, not ten feet away, and started sniffing. God, how do they do that?
I have to think about what—
I am in love with Mariel, I swear. She just snagged one of the straggling Am-A, a little boy, and dragged him in with us. I need to look at her hand where the little bastard bit her. The Mighty Lydia’s good for something, since she snatched the kid and put him out in three seconds with a sleeper hold. (All those nights watching Fight Science are paying off for her I guess.)
Mariel didn’t cry out or anything so I think we’re still in good shape. Mimmy’s on the lookout. The only sound in here is my scribbling—yes it seems that loud, so I’d better stop until they leave the building, which they always do.
They leave like they have to go, so you know there’s something they must do a lot of. I just don’t know what.
From Mariel— A quick note about the child I captured. The teeth he sank into my hand went all the way to the bone, but the look in his eye as he bit down was far from vicious. He looked instead as if the bite was simply the next move in a series of automatic responses to the stimuli of being grabbed. It was the strangest thing to see. I half expected his eyes to roll back under his lids like a shark clamping down on a seal. Looking at him now quite simply unnerves me, the placid stare and apparent acceptance of his predicament.
He will reply if spoken to, however, so perhaps we can learn something, as was my intention in taking him. We’re getting ready to move to one of the science classrooms which should have the sulfuric acid we need to mask our smell…at least according to Mimmy’s father it will. He has just texted her and claimed bleach, sulfur, and a dozen more items on a list are what he uses daily to remain undetected by their sniffing. OTR drivers never smell very good anyway he told her and I am starting to think we’ll be very glad to meet this man.
A sense of humor is so important in dire situations and a grown man who drives trucks and will still text a smiley face has to be a gem.
Lydia here—I found my own freaking pen since Eric told Mariel not to share his anymore. Such a jerk. Anyway, this one barely has any ink but even after it runs out I’ll keep using it and just act like I’m writing with it. I cannot get over this Am-A kid. He would’ve been so cute if he was normal. He has all this wavy light brown hair and big brown eyes that are somehow just…empty.
I almost feel sorry for him. I mean, before this he was going to love to get his feet muddy and his clothes full of grass stains. He was going to learn how to hide stuff on his computer, laugh at farts, show off on a skateboard and do a hundred thousand things we do just because it feels good and makes us happy to do them.
“What makes you happy?” I asked him just now and he said, “Same as everyone else.” I said, “You mean everyone else like you?” and he said, “Yes.”
Okay. “So what makes everyone else like you happy?” I asked, and he gave me that blank stare of his and said, “You can’t understand because you’re not like me.”
“Fair enough,” I said, then he asked what I was writing and I said, “You can’t understand because you’re not like me.”
Plenty sit still. Hunger is a wanderer. Zulu proverb.
Lydia just handed me her pen and said, “I think there’s still some ink in it. Go for it, Mimmy.” I asked Brianna and Rachelle if they wanted it but they both said no. We’re all probably going to die but I’m still not cool enough for them to talk to or even be nice to. I’m glad Lydia offered me the pen. I’ve been looking around the class we’re in for some of the things my dad texted me about. I gave the kid we captured some stuff I thought he would find interesting but all he does is sit and stare at us, which is ironic in a reverse zoo kind of sense. I mean he’s the one tied up and in captivity but we’re the ones doing all the screeching and banging and getting stared at. Brianna screeched when she realized she was sitting next to the tarantula’s terrarium. I thought Eric was going to smack her. He threw the nearest thing he could find, a cup, to shut her up and it wound up breaking half the things on the shelf behind her. Eric’s freaking out right now because one of the things that got broken is part of the Environment Around Us exhibit, a little glass vial full of lead dust from old paint chips. We watched a video about it on the science channel. Apparently that little tablespoon full of dust is enough to poison a dozen households. It’s funny that the dork is worried about the lead dust getting us. I mean seriously.
From Mariel—I must remember to apologize to Lydia for Eric’s petty bitchery about the pen, but she found her own—and may beat it into a sword later—so I don’t feel bad about recording this. The most amazing thing just happened; the little boy I caught earlier started crying. He’s been with us all day, stoic as can be, completely unemotional about being apprehended and non-responsive for the most part, aside from the initial bite, which itches intensely, but no I’m not craving human flesh yet (joke.)
After a few hours in the science room I noticed he appeared to be getting paler. I mentioned it to Eric and he suggested the boy was perhaps hungry, or heaven forbid, tired. Then clever Lydia observed that some of the contents of the lead vial had dusted the top of the desk where the boy sat tied up, and that he had rested his bound hands on the surface.
He’s been poisoned by the lead, no doubt, and that swift acting metabolism of his has seen to it that the effects have accelerated. We’re all waiting to see what happens next, and yes it does feel deliciously evil in a mad scientist sort of way. Mimmy asked him why he was crying and the little boy told Mimmy he hated her and to just leave him alone. Anger, hate, the normal emotions of a truculent second grader toward his babysitter, we may be on to something.
Official Third Entry. Mariel and I have discovered that lead reverses the effects of the infection! What a happy accident it was for me to have thrown that cup and broken the vial. And it was sheer genius on Mariel’s part to put together the tears with his exposure to the lead.
We watched all night and moved him to several different rooms with us and this morning his color seems normal again and he’s asking for some pop out of the machine. He’s been mad, sad and the little shit has been cranky beyond belief, but he’s not staring blankly anymore. We’re all holding our breath to see if it lasts or if the effects are just temporary. If I expose him to any more lead while he’s normal it will either kill him or damage his brain irreversibly.
Here’s the good part. If lead does work, I happen to know there’s a parking lot full of cars out there and into each battery goes about twenty pounds of lead—enough to poison thousands of the Am-A, providing I can figure out a way to get it into the water. It’s funny in a way because the video we watched in my class speculated that lead in the drinking water, bathing water, whatever, was the real reason Rome fell. They even put it in their wine. So, if you think about it, the Am-A got this way because of something deep in the earth, and now they’ll revert because of something even deeper in the earth. I know, I know, Rome didn’t fall in a day, and neither will the Am-A. But how fucking genius are the two of us? We do good work together.
Mimmy M. I texted my dad about the lead and he texted back and said don’t invest in lead aprons yet because obviously we needed another test subject and he didn’t understand why all the educators around me, the science teacher in particular (who is acting like he and Ms. Lyon are Mr. and Mrs. Curie or something) didn’t realize that. Lead in Non-I people doesn’t have the same effect on adults as it does on kids, he warned, it can take a lot longer and doesn’t do quite as much damage at the onset, so he said we needed to capture someone bigger to know if it did everything we thought it did. I haven’t told anyone about his text yet.
The Am-A are out there again and we all need to be quiet and get somewhere safe.
Okay, I guess I have some male ‘qualities’ after all because I’m starting to think like my dad here. From the first day he told me to think like an episode of Survivor and try to keep the strongest people around me at all times. The weak ones are only eating your food he said. It sounded totally mean at the time but now I know exactly what he meant. That’s why the minute I could do it without causing too much notice I went to Lydia and showed her his text. She got this gleam in her eye and when I told her my plan I expected her to half freak, but she didn’t. She is that cool. Sometimes I don’t know if I want to be with her (like a guy) or be her. I could always hook her up with my dad. He’s only twenty-nine. Yes he got my mom pregnant when he was only fifteen in case you’re wondering. But I know if he met her he’d think Lydia is the shit, same as me.
Lydia— When Mimmy told me what her dad texted I had a vision in my head of Eric in a huge ‘Doh!’ moment. I almost laughed aloud but Mimmy’s next words sobered me up right away. What she’s suggesting is harsh beyond measure, but I am in complete agreement.
I admire Mimmy more with each passing day. Life can’t be easy for her. I see how the students treat her and I hate it. Its snotty little bitches like Brianna and Rachelle who make high school miserable for everyone.
Makes me want to play dodge ball with their parents.
Later. We didn’t consult the others. Why should we? Just as the last of the Am-A were trailing out of the building Mimmy slapped the little boy hard and shoved him into the hall where he proceeded to bawl like a calf that had lost its mother. The last pair of Am-A stopped, turned and came back. Both were adults and apparently recognized the kid but also realized something was different about him (no doubt the bawling) and they started in with the sniffing. Mimmy took the bigger one out with a solid glass apple to the head—a teacher of the year paperweight—and I grabbed the smaller guy in a choke hold. When the others saw what was going down, the ever valiant Eric grabbed his compass-spear again but at my No! Keep him alive! Mariel snapped to with a length of coax cable she snatched off the back of a monitor and came to wrap around the Am-A’s neck. It took four of us to hold him down until he succumbed to the blocked arterial flow in his neck.
We must have looked like a pit crew at the Indy 500 while we stripped blinds and electrical cords and everything we could find to tie him securely and keep him from pounding the crap out of us when he came to. Before anyone else could say or do anything Mimmy force fed the guy a healthy dose of the lead, putting it directly down his gullet.
Eric started raving about us going off half-cocked and what the hell did we think we were doing? And blah blah until Mariel looked at him and told him to be quiet. Of course we needed to test an adult Am-A to find out if it had the same effect, she told him. See, this is why I still like Mariel. She’s like a French version of me. Now we’re waiting again. I have to stop writing now because believe it or not the little boy says he wants to sit in my lap.
This is Mimmy again. I do feel bad about slapping the little brat on Lydia ’s lap—okay, he’s not really that bad, just scared and needing to feel not scared—but it’s nothing compared to how I feel about the dead Am-A in the hall. After I hit him with the apple he never regained consciousness and just died out there. We didn’t even realize it because we were all so busy getting the smaller one tied down. I feel sort of sick to my stomach when I close my eyes and feel the apple smashing against his head. I knew there was like a crunching sound but I didn’t think it was a death dealing crunch. I am tall for my age. My arms are long and I have good reach. I must be stronger than I thought. I want to text my dad but I don’t know what to say. One good thing, Brianna and Rachelle are being a lot nicer and acting a little afraid of me. It makes me want to laugh at them. Right now I have to get his blood off my hand. I keep washing but I still smell it.
From Mariel— Time for more observations about our ever changing group dynamic: The little cub clutching Lydia obviously knows a strong protector when he sees one. Lydia seems bemused and befuddled by the tyke’s attachment to her. Mimmy is patience itself but looks jealous. She threw up in a wastebasket a moment ago and then the Am-A that got the lead vomited down the front of his shirt. I’m worried about his binds not holding, even though we confiscated the two tasers he is incredibly strong. Right now he looks pale but we need to keep our guard up. He can vomit all he likes, Lydia announced, no one is loosening a single cord. This she directed to the dimwit duo of Brianna and Rachelle, whose gazes are turning ever more sympathetic in regard to our adult captive.
He is quite attractive and girls are particularly stupid when it comes to attractive males. I’ve had my fill of experiences with them, starting when I was their age. In fact the man we have tied up looks a great deal like my first experience. It was on a crowded train in Paris on the way to my school. The first day he got on we traded glances but I looked away. By the next week he was moving to stand beside me on the train, pushing his way through the other passengers to sandwich himself against me.
Each day he would find some way to touch me, a hand brushing against my breast or a thigh wedged against my buttocks. He nipped at the back of my ear once and made me turn against him full front.
When I was pressed against him I felt his erection and he smiled and breathed against my face until I grew dizzy. By the next week his fingers were inside me and I was flushed and panting and excited beyond belief. The week after that he moved on to another girl on the train.
I keep watching to see if our captive looks at any of the females here. That will show us if the lead is working, I tell myself. The Non-I male can’t help himself, he will always look, yes always (not that females don’t do their own share of looking.) The Am-A never look.
I’ll give it another few hours and then a small test may be in order. Who knows, as good looking as he is he’s probably very callous when it comes to female attention and can remain as unaffected as he likes even when non-infected.
I just thought of the perfect application for the infection. It might be a useful sentence for sexual predators, like the man on the train. Infect them and keep everyone safe. I’ll have to tell Eric. Or at least I will when he stops pouting. He’s still wounded over being told to be quiet.
Back to the dynamic: It’s funny how all of us have gradually come to rely on Mimmy and her cell phones. Her father has become the man behind the curtain, the great and powerful Oz who’s going to give Eric a brain, Lydia a heart (to replace the one brainless Eric broke) and Mimmy enough courage to reveal her true self. Me, I would settle for a yogurt. More than anything, I miss my yogurt, and if that truck of his is full of refrigerated food supplies on his current run as he believes I will be first to break the lock and go in armed with my spoon. A smiley face extravaganza.
!!!Omigod I cannot believe what just happened!!! I’m Brianna writing this down so I don’t forget to give everyone the details when we get out of here. I swear to god this is true and Rachelle will back me up 110%. We’ve all been watching the guy our gym teacher and Ms. Lyon caught (remind me to tell how Mimmy Milton killed one in the hall) to see if lead will change him back to like us. Well he vomited all over himself which was really gross and it smelled super bad so after a while Ms. Lyon got up and we could see her looking at our gym teacher and then at the science teacher like she was signaling something. She goes over to the tied up guy and uses a rag and a beaker full of water to start washing off his face and shirt. She started talking to him in this really low voice that none of us could hear and then Rachelle noticed that the two top buttons of her blouse were undone and a lot of cleavage was suddenly showing. How creepy, we thought, seriously Frenchly disgusting, but she’s talking and cleaning him off and we’re all watching him to see what he does. Her hand with the rag keeps going lower, until she’s wiping the vomit off his lap and sort of trying to get him hard at the same time.
The science teacher stands up, about to go apeshit when the guy jerks and groans like he’s coming but at the same moment thrashes around with his head and bites Ms. Lyon’s FACE!!! like some crazed chimp, which made the gym teacher jump on him with her taser. The science teacher was going to spear him but Mimmy stepped in and knocked it out of his hand. This made the science teacher so mad he knocked the crap out of Mimmy and called her a little freak!!! (It’s about time someone besides us says so) which pissed off the gym teacher so much she tasered the science teacher right in the crotch. He fell down flat and actually passed out. Hilarious!!!
Mimmy. My dad is going to kill that asshole Eric for what he did. My face hurts bad, but probably not as bad as Ms. Lyon’s. She’s still joking though, told us she has that effect on most men. Believe it or not, the guy who bit her apologized a few minutes ago. I think he means it, because he has a scrunched up ‘sorry’ look on his face that wasn’t there before, I mean emotion-wise. Me and Lydia are pretty sure the lead is finally working, which we weren’t going to find out if we let Eric kill him. That’s why I knocked his spear away. The dick. I want to wait longer to see if the guy changes back again, maybe we need to give him more lead to make his change permanent, I don’t know. Lydia agrees with me. I’m not giving Eric’s pen back. Fuck him. I hope his tasered dick is as dickless as the rest of him now. Okay, well that didn’t make sense but it tells you how pissed off I still am. He couldn’t tell she was just playing? Like she was doing it because she really liked him or something? What a dumbshit. When my dad—
Believe it or not my dad just texted and said he’s about a mile away and is going to come to the parking lot at the north entrance the minute it gets dark. He’s going to act like he’s getting out to check on his rig, like something is wrong somewhere and when he takes off his hat and scratches his head that’s our cue to come in a hurry and get in the back. It’s going to be cold he says so find something to wrap up in until he can get us away safely and find a new place to hide.
Off Entry # Eric — I need to get away from these people before I kill someone normal. I feel like shit. I regret hitting Mimmy and saying what I did. She/he/it is a good kid and didn’t deserve it. I was upset and reacted badly and before this is over I promise I will apologize. I admit I never thought Lydia would do what she did. I mean she’s always fallen all over herself for me and though I know she can get bitchy about being passed over for certain other females I never thought it was in her to cause me actual physical harm. The fact that she tasered me without a second thought, to protect Mimmy, actually says something about her character, that and the way the little kid has attached himself to her leg. The little shit, which incidentally keeps shooting daggers at me with his looks, acts like he’s ready to take up on my nuts where Lydia left off.
Okay, I went for a (painful) walk and found Lydia’s cooking oil stash. We’ve already mapped out the route we’re going to take to the north entrance, so I poured oil in key places in all the other halls they might come at us from when we attempt to move. These are some massive puddles and no one will be able to just skate right through it without kissing concrete.
Shit, I still hurt where she got me. There’s an actual burn mark. Sometimes I wonder if things might have been different between us, I mean if she had let me come after her instead of just letting me know right away she was so into me. When there’s no challenge it hardly seems worth the effort if you’re a guy, you know? That or how great can she be if she actually wants me? Anyway, now I’m starting to think I’ve been really stupid and seriously fucking shallow.
It sucks that we only figure these things out after it’s too late. We’re almost ready. I can see its getting dark out. I have got to lie down again before we go.
I’m Rachelle Burton. Brianna says I should write something since I’m the only one who hasn’t. I don’t know what to put here. She says just to write down what’s happening. There were Am-A in the hall a little while ago. Then we smelled something really bad.
Lydia the gym teacher sneaked out and found two of them fried by their own tasers in big pools of something on the floor. She thought it was oil then realized it was water too. She’s asking everyone now who put the oil and the water on the floor in all the halls. I think that makes about five of them we’ve killed now. It’s weird that they don’t kill us. I mean they have all the guns in the world out there so why don’t they just shoot us? They could fill us full of lead a thousand times over so why are tasers all they use? I don’t want to write anymore. I never liked English.
Lydia— I almost had to use the taser on Eric again to get his lazy ass out to the truck and not get us caught by lagging behind. I could swear I saw some Am-A watching us from behind the trees as we ran out. The little boy and the tied-up guy moved faster than numb nuts and if they’re permanently numb because of what I did then so what. That’ll teach him to call names and hit before thinking, and to hit Mimmy of all people. At any rate we got on without incident. We’re in a weird box-like compartment at the back of the truck that is supposed to be warmer for us than the rest of the refrigerated section. We couldn’t really see Mimmy’s dad or spend any time talking to him. He whispered for us to get in as quick as possible then shut the door behind us. I’m using a light on a cell phone to write this. Mimmy’s Dad just texted and said we’re on the road in sixty sec—
It felt like a tornado just hit the truck. We all got thrown against one side of our box. The kid is scared and crying and Mariel’s face is bleeding again but everyone looks okay otherwise. The tied-up guy said they just blew up the school. We all went stupid for a minute, absorbing what he said and waiting for the truck’s engine to start, then he went on to say it had been the plan for a while, since they couldn’t flush us out and nobody needed the school anyway. They were going to tear everything down and turn it into a wildlife habitat. Wow, I’m struck by the whole irony of the high school wildlife parallel, which makes me start thinking about—
Mimmy grabbed my arm to show me something on her phone. She noticed something about her Dad’s last text. Apparently he spelled out the number, something he never does. I told her to ask him something personal only he would know if she could think of anything. She texted to ask if he thought her Aunt Laura was still okay in Missouri, and then we waited. It took a long time. Then he texted back ‘I don’t know’. Mimmy started looking sick again and I thought she was going to throw up. You don’t have an Aunt Laura, I guessed. How stupid we are. That must be why the truck still hasn’t started.
From Mariel— Did I say Lydia was a wild card? She amazes all of us. She threw down her pen and sobbed then howled in rage before jumping up and smashing her way out of the box. Mimmy and the little boy followed of course and I can already hear the three of them scraping past us on the side. I don’t know where they’re going, probably to figure out what else is in the trailer besides our box or if we can somehow escape.
It occurs to me that these may be the last words I write, so I suppose I’d better make them good ones.
Oh my goodness, wonders never cease. Eric just got up to follow Lydia, said he couldn’t let her die thinking he was a coward. So he does care for her. I have to smile… Wait, no I don’t, because it hurts like hell, thanks to our still tied up friend. He does look normal now, and he did tell us about the explosion. Yes, there was remorse of a sort in his voice. Brianna and Rachelle are obeying cultural dictate and staying close to him, the handsome man, handicapped as he may be at the moment. I’m looking around myself trying to think of where to stuff these pages so they might someday be found and people know of our awkward last stand against this evolutionary juggernaut.
The lead was an excellent idea. The lead works. It may be like using water as fuel, however: a stellar idea that goes exactly nowhere because not enough people know or care about it and too many other people are interested and invested in people not knowing about it.
My heart stopped just now at Mimmy’s scream. She cried one word, “Daddy!” I’m assuming they found him in the trailer then and not in the driver’s seat of the rig. Poor Mimmy. I hear the scraping again, so they must be coming back now, doubtlessly to tell the rest of us what we already know, that we were tricked, and there’s no way out of the trailer but the way we came in.
Lydia’s arms are around Mimmy and the child and Eric’s arm is around Lydia as they file back in with white faces.
I offered Eric the pen because he can go into greater detail about the physiological whys and wherefores (like how kuru will likely never become an issue) but he doesn’t want it. My cold aching fingers may not be able to write the rest of this, but everyone has agreed to pool our pages and we’ll put them in between the panels of the box we’re in. Brianna and Rachelle changed their minds and asked if they could kill the man we tied up. We agreed. With tearful, mascara-smeared faces they tasered him until he defecated in his pants and died. Then they shoved him out of our box. Because he could have warned us and didn’t. Even half normal he let us all get trapped.
Mimmy’s father is back there all right, along with hundreds of other stacked Non-I corpses. We walked ourselves right into the Am-A’s deep freeze, so it seems we’re in the middle of a zombie movie after all. Technically though I suppose they are not zombies as they are not dead. They are the living unleaded. (joke)
Eric says because the car is refrigerated it won’t take long. We’ll all just go to sleep, and well, what can I tell you, but the excitement is killing me.
(not a joke)
It took a long time, almost thirty years, but the science teacher named Eric Perry who started writing this account was right about what would happen: The Am-A’s failure to reproduce in significant numbers eventually saw their downfall. Those of us who were non-infected, or infected but made normal by ingesting lead, were scattered and hidden for many years, acting on each opportunity to poison a water plant here, a bottled water factory there. By inches the tables turned and the numbers of non-infected slowly became greater.
True, many of those changed by the lead suffered a small amount of brain damage, particularly the young, so we might not be as intelligent a species as we once were, but we’re still better off as a society in being able to express our passion, anger and pain, to damage the planet by overpopulating and generally killing each other at will—aren’t we? I believe we are, because if there are no lessons to learn while we’re here then what is the point of existence?
One lingering unhappy side effect is that many of the changed adults still seem to crave the protein rich food they became accustomed to while infected. Their now plodding metabolisms have caused many cases of life-threatening obesity, entire families and neighborhoods of puffy, fleshy, gelatinous former flesh-eaters. There have been a few problems with grave robbing as well, but nothing insurmountable.
I am the boy saved by Lydia Wilde, Mimmy Milton and Mariel Lyon. The warmth from their combined bodies in the box at the back of the semi trailer was enough to keep me alive until the back was finally opened. The Am-A had to first chip away at Brianna and Rachelle, who had frozen solid because they refused to sit with the rest of us.
While they were doing the chopping, and during the noise made by the chainsaw, I grabbed the pages Mariel put between the panels and stuck them in my pants. When Rachelle’s head fell off and rolled out of the trailer they all went after it and gave me the opportunity to slide out from Lydia’s (oddly) still warm clasp and jump out to run as fast as I could back to the still burning school.
I lived there by myself for nearly a month (the wildlife project was not a priority it turned out) before more like me moved in.
When they asked me my name I couldn’t remember, but I showed them the pages I saved and the rest, as they say, is history. After they read the words to me I told them I wanted to be called Wilde, after Lydia, and Lyon, after Mariel. Wilde Lyon. When everybody smiled at that I decided to put Milton in the middle. Everybody smiled even more then at the idea of a Wilde Milton Lyon, but I thought ‘joke’ like Mariel might have done and decided I didn’t care.
I thought Mimmy would like it.
One of the last things dear Mimmy heard was Lydia and Mariel telling her how special she was and how they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they had without her being so smart and brave.
I heard someone start crying then and I thought it was Mimmy but it wasn’t, it was the Lord of Science, as Lydia called him. Eric apologized to Mimmy and then to Lydia who told him to go ‘f’ himself and everybody laughed and cried and hugged each other tighter.
More than anything else, it’s my memory of those four people’s last moments on earth that tells me we’re worth the fight. Even if all we ever get to feel is pain, it’s a glorious thing. When we feel something we know we matter.