Tag Archives: pandemics

“First Souls” – Fiction by Cameron Suey

Head of a Sick Man - Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1917
Head of a Sick Man – Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1917

From our Summer 2016 issue, “First Souls” is Cameron Suey‘s tantalizingly twisted tale of pandemics, gut flora, and folie à deux.
(And hear Cameron read the story & discuss it with Ilana Masad, check out episode 91 of The Other Stories podcast!)

{ X }

THE WAITRESS BRINGS US OUR COFFEE, dishwater pale murk in cracked porcelain cups. Behind the thin surgical mask, her face is unreadable, but her gaze flicks from me to my companion and back again before she leaves without a word. Mickey watches her go and then fixes his eyes on me. For a long moment, the silence continues, as our eyes confirm what our hearts seemed to know the instant we passed on the street.

“Okay, Dale,” he says, his voice hoarse and still raw, like my own. There is an accent I can’t place – perhaps a district on the other side of the city. “I’m going to ask you a couple of questions, but I think I already know the answers.”

I pick up the coffee, finding it smells as weak and thin as it looks, and contemplate taking an exploratory swig. Around us the few lunchtime patrons of the dingy coffee shop are listlessly eating, lifting up paper masks to shovel in crumbling and greasy burgers, backsides squeaking on red vinyl seats. Those that aren’t eating are staring at us, at our uncovered faces.

“Okay,” I say, “Shoot.”

“You had the sick. But you didn’t report it, or go to quarantine like you were supposed to. Didn’t tell anyone.”

I nod, scared to say out loud that I’d broken the law, and willing him to lower his voice. He smiles a little, showing one blackened and rotting canine.

“Yeah. Me too, I mean, obviously. Look at us. We still look like shit. But, you got better. They say 1 in 10 do, and you took the chance. No family, no close friends, you weren’t worrying about passing the sick along. Or maybe too scared to let that stop you.”

I nod again, excitement and night terror churning in my gut. I knew all this when we first saw each other this morning, that he and I were the same.

I came out of my office building, fighting the paranoia and nausea that had plagued me since my recovery, pulling my necktie loose. I couldn’t be around my coworkers, couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Guilt from ignoring the quarantine, from lying, but something else. Something wrong in every pair of eyes. Ever since the fever broke, and I lay awake and sweating in my bed, the sheets clinging to me, I knew something had changed. That feeling is worse than the sick ever was.

Mickey was just outside my office building, crouched on the edge of a planter box. He was sucking a cigarette down to an ashen nub, and dressed in torn jeans and a stained green nylon jacket, worn thin by time. Our eyes met and I froze, held in place like two sparking nodes of an electric arc.

“We should talk,” was all he’d said, and he led me here, to this grim and filthy diner.

“So,” he continues, “We were sick, we hid it, we got better. But it’s not really better is it? There’s something wrong.”

“Yeah…” I croak, and take another mouthful of bitter coffee. “Something’s wrong. But… I don’t think… it’s not with us.”

“No,” he smiles in agreement, the black tooth sliding into view, “Not us.”

Two hours ago I was convinced I was going mad. Now, I am not alone. I could cry, the relief is so great.

Continue reading “First Souls” – Fiction by Cameron Suey

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