Quarantine's End

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I sat on the floor and picked at the edge of the tape that sealed off the front door.

There was nothing else left to do.

It was almost six months since I had put the tape around the edges of the door, optimistically sealing out the poison that lurked in the air for so long now. The grey tape was no longer shiny and new but dull and worn and frayed at the edges, clinging to that fading optimistic hope of sealing out the unknown.

Not at all unlike me.

I grunted at the insipid irony and pulled at the edge of the tape, feeling the worn glue give way. The edge curled and I was able to get a grip on it.

I turned and got to my knees, placing one palm against the door as I gave the tape a solid yank.

There was nothing else left to do.

​The tape tore loudly, echoing down the empty shotgun hallway of my tomb-like home. The bottom section peeled away and lifted the side seal. I climbed to my feet and continued pulling the tape from around the door frame.

As more and more of the door's seams were exposed, I could feel a tightening in my chest.

It was psychosomatic. Or at least, that's what I tried to tell myself. The virus wouldn't have made it through the seams so quickly—even I could admit the tape had been a step too far into the deep end of paranoia.

But when the reported mortality rate exceeded eighty percent, well, fuck me. Sure, there might be a distinction between paranoia and the instinct to survive, but I'm at least eighty percent sure that the virus didn't give a shit.

The tape peeled away from the top of the door.

Paranoia aside, cold logic said that the stockpile of supplies wouldn't last. I had tried to ration, but the pandemic had come crashing down like a tidal wave--there had been little time to prepare and store shelves had been nearly picked clean by the time I arrived.

Canned tuna, cheese puffs, toilet paper, and cigarettes.

Welcome to the end of the world.

I was down to the last strip of tape. It cried out in defeat as I pulled it off the door frame, removing the last barrier between myself and the virus.

The cheese puffs had been the first to go. The tuna ran out four days ago.

Still had enough toilet paper, but what's the point if you don't have anything to eat?

The cigarettes, well, those were the epitome of an impulse buy. I hadn't smoked since I dropped the habit eight and a half years ago. It had been after the second divorce. I had purged so many toxins from my life, it only made sense to dump the smokes, too.

But when you're staring down the barrel of a pandemic and the store shelves are empty, save a healthy supply of cancer sticks, well, why not indulge in a one last cigarette before the world ends?

What's the worst that could happen?

As my supplies dwindled, I never touched the cigarettes. I don't know why. Maybe it had something to do with that ironic duct tape optimism, sealing out the poison air.

Whatever the reason, my supplies vanished, the cigarettes remained, and the final strip of tape lay crumpled on the ground.

There was nothing else left to do.

I pulled the deadbolt back and turned doorknob.

The door creaked open. The vacuum of my improvised tomb ripped open, and air--that virus-laden, eighty-percent-mortality, poisonous air--rushed by my ears.

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew that this was inevitable, even from the very beginning.

Since there was nothing else left to do, I stepped over the threshold.

It was sunny out. My front lawn was overgrown and the street was empty. The neighborhood sat quiet, the poison air heavy with a deadly stillness.

This time, the tightness in my chest was real.

There really was nothing else left to do.

I had no supplies. I had no way to get fresh provisions. Even if I could raid a neighboring house, there was no way I could filter the air in my house when I got back. That's assuming I had the means to make the trip in the first place.

Which I didn't.

I tried to take in a deep breath, but it was no use.

Eighty percent my ass.

I fished the cigarettes and matches out of my pocket as I sat down on the stoop. The plastic peeled away and I extracted one of the smokes.

I was already wheezing when I put the cigarette between my lips, striking the match, and taking that first, long pull.

Nicotine. Tar. Arsenic.

Cancer research says that the smoke from a cigarette contains thousands of chemicals. It might have been eight years since my last cigarette, but as the smoke filled my lungs, my brain lit up as that familiar release washed over me.

I don't know if it was the knowledge that this was, truly, my last smoke, but fuck me sideways with a jackhammer.

That was good.

The cigarette burned in my fingers as I held the smoke in my lungs. When it became too much, I released it with a hacking cough.

Excruciating pain shot through my chest.

Yep. That's how that eighty percent mortality rate was supposed to go. Tightness, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, excruciating pain, lung failure, and then lights out. Curtains. Show's over. All bets are off because no one wins when you gamble against the virus.

I took another long drag on the cigarette.

Fuck me.

I didn't want to go like this. Isolated. Alone. And what the fuck did I even do with my life? I built a career pushing papers and helping fat rich fucks get fatter and richer. Two failed marriages, a best friend who hated me even more than my ex wives, and a family that wouldn't give me the time of day.

I'm pretty sure I didn't do any of this right. But then again, the virus wouldn't care if you were a motherfucking saint or Gandhi or Jesus Fucking Christ himself.

Another drag.

What did it matter? Good, bad, right, wrong--the virus came for everyone, indiscriminately. Even the fat rich fucks with their endless supplies of tuna and cheese puffs ... they wouldn't be able to escape the virus forever.

The virus made it all pointless. Success. Failure. Life. Death.

Another long pull, thousands of chemicals swirling in a cloud of burning smoke inside me. I could literally feel the carcinogens pricking at my lungs.

After another long moment, I let out a stream of smoke. My chest sunk slowly. Deliberately.

I expelled the final contents of my lungs.

All good things and all that jazz.

There was nothing else left to do.

My chest rose as my lungs filled with air.

I breathed out.

I repeated steps one and two.

The cigarette burned between my fingers.

Well, fuck me.

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