Another NaNoWriMo prep session. A little over an hour this time and 1056 words. Warning, it’s a bit political. (image from Shaun of the Dead)

The Light and the Flame

So far, the disease had cropped up in five different towns, today was the sixth. Like all the other cases, the victims here were mobile but unresponsive. I would have called them zombies, but that would have implied a certain degree of physical degeneration and a notable bloodlust. These people had neither. For all intents and purposes, they appeared completely normal.

Like the other five towns, this one was small, rural, conservative. There was a single main street, more churches than grocery stores and nothing notable had happened in the history of the community.

“That’s all of them, Emma,” Joss said. “Tinytown: total population six-hundred forty three, sixty-five percent zombie. Give or take.”

“Please don’t call them that. It’s hard enough dealing with the media hyperbole without sinking to their level.”

“Sorry. Sixty-five percent unresponsive.”

“Do we know anything else about this place? Is it on a uranium mine? A landfill? Toxic dump?”

“Nothing. A lower level of welfare than average, strong community spirit, heavy church goers.”

“That’s all?” I asked, inputting the information, sparse as it was, into my database. It seem to match the details of the other communities fairly well.

“Well, I found a lot of these,” Joss said with distaste, holding up a now infamous red MAGA cap. “So, maybe they got what they deserved.”

I glared at him. “That’s almost half the country you’re talking about. Even if that is related, I’m not giving up just because they voted different to us.”

He just shrugged.

“Joss, I may not like the guy they voted for, but they’re allowed their opinion.”

Joss was an ideologue — big government, no religion except ones from foreign countries, no hate speech, and diversity, were his rules to live by. I tended to agree, but not to the same degree. Which is to say, I wasn’t willing to punch Nazis just because they were Nazis. A person had to act violent before they deserved a violent response, in my book.

Anyway, as humorous as the idea might be, I doubted politics could turn someone into a zombie.

Small drops of sweat ran down my face inside the biocontainment suit as I struggled to make sense of this illness. The strange part was that usually these kind of things — not that there’d ever been a zombie outbreak, but things like bird flu or ebola — happened in poorer parts of the world where hygiene wasn’t as well developed as in the West. This was the first such outbreak I could think of in modern times that started in an affluent country.

“Here, just look at this garbage!” Joss said, returning to interrupt my train of thought. He flung pamphlets, fliers and books on the diner table.

I picked up a few and read the titles:

  • Say ‘no’ to illegal immigration
  • The truth about international terrorism
  • Walls work
  • Global economics simplified
  • Are Nazis really right wing?
  • Global warming alarmists: what they’re not telling you

“You might as well call this Hatespeechville,” he said. “I’m done. They can wander in their mindless paradise forever, for all I care. Better yet, why don’t we just torch the entire place and them with it?”

“Joss!”

“I mean it, Emma, these people make me sick. I can’t possibly save monsters like this.”

“Call it a day, Joss,” I said noticing that he sun was beginning to set anyway. “I’m sure we’ll feel better once we get out of these suits,” I added, once again struggling to shake a drop of sweat from my eyes.

As he stormed out of the diner, I stood beside the old, but well-padded bench amid what was once probably a classic malt shop and burger joint, and watched the sun fully set.

From the restaurant I could see the edge of town and beyond. It struck me this was a peaceful place. There was no constant bustle of shoppers, no constant honking of cars. There wasn’t even a very good wi-fi signal, so we’d had to rely on a satellite feed from the CDC truck. It was a place where a person could be free to sit and think, without the distractions of modern life, without the incessant attacks of ideologues from one side or another.

Darkness filled the small town, with only the tiny circles of street light as sanctuary. For a moment, I was worried. I’d never been in the dark in a town with wandering outbreak victims before. But as I watched, they seemed no more violent in the dark than in the light. In fact, they even seemed to give off a faint glow themselves. That would be something worth studying tomorrow.

With no evidence of any contagion, and a face dripping in sweat, I removed the helmet of my suit and sat down, trying to figure out what to do next. Idly I flipped open the first flier and began reading.

Contrary to my expectations, it was interesting and informative. There were some valuable points. Did we really want to become a refuge for criminals? If this pamphlet was to be believed, the vast majority of people crossing illegally into the country weren’t destitute refugees as I’d always been taught, but people looking to shortcut the legal immigration process for economic benefit.

Curious, I read another, only to learn that, globally, one belief system accounted for more than 30,000 terrorist attacks in the last year. Something that our own media downplayed because relatively few deaths in our country could be attributed to them.

Already the views I held so dear were developing cracks. Why had no one told me this stuff before?

I read a few more and each one drove into the wall like a sledgehammer until I could finally see a pattern in the half-truths and lies I’d been exposed to my entire life. The emotional haze obscuring my perception fell away and I could suddenly see a path forward. Not just for the country, but for the world. And it made sense. Not just in a vague, emotional way. But in a concrete, numerical, functional way.

The veneer of the world fell away and I stared, wide-eyed at the beauty of what could be.

I lost track of time and space then and was only brought back to reality when the flames of the burning town bit into my skin.

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