General Fiction posted August 30, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
The looming pandemic


by Mark Valentine

From The Depths Contest Winner 

From the depths they come
Writhing and creeping in shadows
Tainting all they touch

Ask your father, if you are of a certain age. Or your grandfather. There are still some alive who witnessed the last, supposedly final, infestation. They know the horror in a way that no Wikipedia article can convey. They’ll tell you that Periplaneta Germanica are not to be trifled with. They remember the plague. Their mind’s eye can still summon the image of the vermin marching in rigid columns, overrunning fields, spreading their disease, turning day into night, life into death.

Their words won’t be able to fully communicate the horror, but you’ll see it in their eyes. You’ll see shadows of disbelief at what almost was, for they, and they alone, fully appreciate how close these microscopic molestations came to triumph. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”

To you, that’s an apocalyptic verse from Revelation – to them, it’s a memory.

And when they tell you of the heavy price that was paid to exterminate this scourge, note well the look in their eyes. You might expect to see the gleam of pride at the heroic deeds that forever etched their names into the history books, but, chances are, you’ll find no traces of self-congratulation. Rather, you’ll be struck by a hollow, empty look. It speaks, not to remembrances of hardships past, but to the realization that perhaps those hardships were endured in vain.

For presently, the pestilence they thought they had vanquished resurfaces. From the depths they come, writhing and creeping in shadows, tainting all they touch. Understand the stories of your ancestors and you’ll know why they are skeptical when others say, “Oh, it’s just a few bugs underneath the sink – nothing to be alarmed about.” They have seen how quickly they multiply when fed. They know that the strength of these invaders lies not only in their numbers, but in our numbers – the multitudes among us who sit and watch and do nothing while the storm clouds gather on the horizon.

Yes, talk to the elders about Periplaneta Germanica. And when you have sufficiently absorbed the lessons from that battle, turn your attention to the previous century. Learn about another parasite, one that has never completely left us; the Anthonomus Antebellum. Be careful not to read the sanitized accounts though, the ones that would treat this bloodthirsty parasite as little more than a cold virus. For we need to make sure that history recognizes this home-grown plague for the evil that it is, not the inconvenience some wish it were.

We need to remember how this bloodthirsty parasite feasted on the flesh of its hosts with no regard for their wellbeing. When they were done with one, they simply moved on to the next fungible meal ticket. An epidemic that regarded human beings as crumbs – let that sink in. It was an epidemic that could have and should have been nipped in the bud, but men of that day shamefully lacked the will to combat the beast.

Eventually, they would have no choice. They waged a battle they thought they had won, but as so often happens with microorganisms, a new strain emerged from the embers. In this case, the mutation came to be known as the Anthonomus Postbellum, a pointy headed white parasite that was less prevalent, but more tenacious than its predecessor. While it continued to flourish in warm and humid climates, this time it was not confined to the American south. It found carriers and showed up in places like Detroit, Boston, and Chicago.

And now both of these disease-bearers are back. Surely you’ve read accounts of the sightings. Pennsylvania. Portland. Charlottesville. Their numbers are thought to be small and manageable at present, but how many more might be hiding behind the baseboards? What to make of the concurrent resurfacing of two such vile enemies? Is there cause for concern? What have we learned from history?

We have learned that small colonies can add to their numbers and become large reichs; that strains that survive a round of antibiotics can give birth to new nations. Not long ago, these “lower” life forms came perilously close to relegating our species to the waste pile of Darwinian consequence. They are testament to the fact that there is no room for sentiment in evolution. Aggressive evil can triumph over passive good. Survival of the fittest can make master races of the unlikeliest of candidates.

The irony is that our would-be destroyers depend on us for their existence. They feed off the crumbs we leave unswept in the dark corners, the residue of our gluttony. They venture forth in the dark, while we sleep. And, because we do not turn on the kitchen lights or open the cabinet under the sink for fear of what we might see, we can only guess at their numbers.

We do know that they are not wanting for food. Like rats in the restaurant district, they are in the right place at the right time. The crumbs upon which they feed are fear, bigotry, hatred, and ignorance, and they are not in short supply. You can observe their feeding frenzies on Twitter and Facebook. This year’s harvest has yielded a bumper crop, and the forecast calls for favorable conditions for the near future.

Where’s the tipping point? How long before scattered cases become an epidemic? Could it really happen again, or have we, by now, developed enough of a herd immunity to ensure our survival? Was Charlottesville their best shot, or an opening salvo?

The current state of affairs gives cause for concern, but not yet for despair. While our victory is not inevitable, it is attainable. We are not facing some master species here. We have fought and won over these vermin before. We’re at the top of the food chain for a reason. Intelligence, science, morality, art, chutzpah – these traits make us human, and love is a powerful vaccine. If there is anything “masterful” about our species, surely it has its roots in qualities like these. They elevate. They transcend. And, ultimately, they triumph.

We got this.


From The Depths
Contest Winner
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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