Once Upon a Time

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I almost hit the thing. I slammed on the brakes and bounced a bit, but I missed it. The shimmering, shining creature stopped, right in the middle of the road, and stared at me. Its deep, brown eyes looked just as deeply into mine, and I knew that whatever it was looking for, it did not find it in me. It reared, snorted, and galloped down the street. It disappeared behind the lattice work on a ranch house's porch.

"Did you..."

"No. But whatever it was, ignore it, Jack. I think it's just an effect of the virus."

"What?"

"Ignore it. It's a hallucination, I think."

"What if it's not?"

"What did you see?"

I thought about it for a moment. Suddenly, describing the beautiful white creature seemed wrong. "Never mind," I answered. "Just forget I said anything, okay?"

She snuggled into the leather upholstery. She always had loved the smell of a new car with leather seats. "Alright," she said. "Now, please, let me think. Just drive."

"You got it," I responded.

I found driving on the empty streets to be a bit soothing, but it bothered me more than soothed me. There's a part of me that would jump up and down at being the last man on earth, and would then lay down and die of loneliness. I still stopped when the light turned red, although there was not another moving vehicle in sight.

"Don't develop any bad habits," Elizabeth muttered. She was still deep in thought, and we had left Alton and Odval probably ten or more miles back.

I mused and tapped the wheel. Washington, D.C., was about two hundred miles away, and even on empty streets and roads, it would take more than two hours to get there. We would not have to stop for fuel, but other stops could be necessary. We had no weapons, and I had no doubt that every camera at every intersection was documenting our progress. Whether or not they knew our destination or purpose was only conjecture, but it was logical to conclude that we were being tracked.

I glanced at my wife. What did I really know about her? What did I really know about anyone, or could anyone know about another person? Most of the time, my own motives were a mystery to me. I could only guess about my own soul, and hers now seemed to be behind a locked door. After all, we had met and fallen in love while she had been married to Alton, and we had plotted his demise together. How had it happened, how had it started? I frowned, and remembered.

I studied law in college, with the hope of working as a lawyer. The progression was a perfect plan. Honestly, I had no burning ambition to save the world or crusade for justice. I just thought that lawyers seemed to make a lot of money, and I wasn't sure that they worked all that hard. It didn't look very hard on television. So I took all of the classes a pre-law student is supposed to, and did well in them. My roommate, Alton, was a different story.

For every hour I spent studying, Alton spent a few moments. He was the sort of student who could leaf through a text book and come away knowing everything in it. His memory was photographic, and his effort minimal. There were days when I was beating my brains out with work, trying to master some arcane point of history or law, and off he would go to the tennis court or to the coffee shop or some other place that I was predestined to miss out on.

There were other times when I came back from the library, carrying a huge load of books and work, and Alton was nowhere to be found. He would turn up again, a day or two later. He never vanished for these stays except when I was gone, and I often wondered about it. Until, of course, the day he recruited me.

I eased the car on to the ramp leading to the Interstate. Weird. It was deserted as well, but I knew it was too good to last. I nudged Elizabeth; she seemed to have dozed off.

"Wake up, honey. Company's calling."

She struggled to open her eyes. That was unnerving. For as long as I've known her, her sleep has been a light switch; on or off, nothing in between, and she had the ability to go from one to the other instant. Now, she struggled. I mean that she literally struggled, like a person trying to push their way through a full-grown corn field.

"Come on, Elizabeth. Open your eyes. Fight this thing!" I pushed her shoulder, harder, and her head lolled away, banging on the door. I kept my attention on the road, but I was divided with concern for her and the need to keep moving forward. I had seen the blinking light when I entered the Interstate, and I had not been that long from the Org that I had forgotten what that meant. There were a thousand small things in everyday life, little things that no doubt people all around me saw every day, never knowing that they were part of a vast system of surveillance. We had tripped an electronic trigger, and it was only a matter of time.

"Hmmm?" she said.

"Elizabeth! Look at me!" I shook her again, rougher this time, and saw her eye flicker. "Come on! Sit up."

Elizabeth stretched and pushed her hands forward until she seized the dash. "Jack?"

"Yes, Jack. That's my name, Honey."

Her eyes flickered and she looked at me. "I'm Honey?"

"No, no; Elizabeth. You're Elizabeth. Come on, you need to fight. Don't give in."

"I don't want to fight anymore." She stomped her feet a bit.

I had no choice. It wasn't like I had an injection of Haldol or something like that handy, although there were several doses behind a panel in the truck, concealed behind some carpeting. I looked forward. There was nothing on the road, and no one near me to see, but it still felt wrong. But like I said, I had no choice. I opened my hand and slapped her across the face as hard as I could.

"Oww." Her voice was low, and her hand shot up to her face. Her eyes shot wide open and she glared at me. "What in the world is wrong with you?"

"You were slipping away, Elizabeth. Listen, Alton was either wrong or lying to us. Maybe both. But our time with that squirrel was not a good thing, and I'm afraid we're infected."

Elizabeth watched me, her brain struggling to assimilate the information. After a moment, she took hold of my arm in a clench like a vise. "We have an antidote. In the glove box."

I pried her fingers from my arm and tried to keep my eyes on the wheel. I was doing eighty miles an hour. "Well, get it. I'm driving."


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