Today’s lockdown piece is a brief tale of pandemic fiction, by Tom Vater.
Deconfinement: They’d barricaded themselves in the Blue Parrot Restaurant. Neil, Brian, Amber and Eric. Long out of masks, the four friends could no longer go outside. There were too many infected. But they were starving.
No one would come and save them. The shortwave radio on the cash counter told them as much, perched next to a porcelain ashtray from Venice that featured the restaurant’s owner’s face. Guido. Guido was dead. He’d become infected weeks ago. Brian and Neil had killed him with saucepan lids and rolled him out of the Blue Parrot Restaurant.
In their defense, they’d been following government advice. Kill the infected. There was no vaccine. Anyone catching the virus would stop eating and keep spreading until they collapsed. If they collapsed. The authorities were overwhelmed. Business had long been shuttered. The media had collapsed. The Internet was gone. The Blue Parrot had been the center of the universe these past six weeks. At first, the food had been excellent. Then it had begun to run out.
Amber emerged from the freezer triumphantly, a large frozen bag of something in her hands.
“I found something.”
The others looked at her doubtfully. They’d been through that freezer. They’d scratched even the moldy packet of durian ice cream off the side and devoured it. Brian, Neil, Eric and Amber looked at each other. Brian was the first to speak.
“That freezer was bone empty yesterday. Someone’s put that bag in there. We had a deal. We’re friends. We agreed to stick it out together to the end. But someone’s broken the deal.”
Amber looked crestfallen. Eric had gone pale. Neil lit a cigarette.
“Isn’t that your last one?”
“As you said, Brian, we had a deal.”
Eric stepped to the radio and turned it up.
“The Ministry of Health advises all non-infected citizens to stay indoors and wear their government issued masks. Our air force will drop an aerosol campaign on the city this evening at 6pm, in fifteen minutes. There will be a bright flash of light. Do not venture outside for at least two hours.”
The announcement gave way to static.
Eric turned to Amber,
“What’s in the bag?”
“Someone fucking cheated,” Neil interjected again. “Guys, we promised each other to survive together, keeping each other’s backs. Someone’s been eating and the rest of us have been starving.”
“What’s in the bag? Open the bag,” Eric repeated.
Amber stepped up to the largest table, opened the bag and poured its contents on the shiny wood surface. She threw up almost immediately. Eric, Brian and Neil shrunk back as one. Perhaps not quite as one. But they all shrunk back. Amber was crying. No one said a thing. They’d promised to share. They’d also promised to keep their humanity. But one of them had failed.
Neil shook his head, disgusted or broken, and took a few steps towards the door. He looked at his watch and grinned sadly. Then he shrugged and raised his hand and turned.
“See you guys.”
“No,” the others all shouted. He hesitated, then shrugged again, a gesture his friends knew so well. A gesture they loved as much as they loved anything about one another.
“Well, every cloud has got a silver lining,” he said and stepped out into the light.