Chapter 1 - Clio

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Sometimes it’s difficult to do the right thing. But Okie and I tried; we did everything humanly possible. Granted, there are other things that are not humanly possible. I for one am not about to allow my arm be chewed off just because another person – another former person – is feeling like a snack. But humanly possible, we did.

That’s why I’m setting down my story: so everyone else in the family, such as our English relatives on Sumatra’s side, will understand the effort we made and not be too critical after the fact. Or everyone else in the family who is still in what I may term a reading state.

Because that’s one of the first symptoms, isn’t it? They lose the ability to read.You see them trying to decipher the street signs; it’s quite sad really, and worse than sad if they happen to be driving. So many mangled passers-by. The aphasia comes just before the insatiable craving for street-cart mini-wieners, but before the slavering and shambling and the attacks on pet dogs. And all that follows.

But I’m digressing. Let’s just say that if you can read this, you’re probably still unaffected.

Here is how it began.

I was out in the garden, cultivating the rhubarb plants, from which I intended to make a pie later in the afternoon, or two pies, or maybe even three if I added strawberries. You can never have too much rhubarb, in my opinion. You can eat too much of it, yes, but you can never have too much. I frequently give some of mine away, to family and the neighbours. Not that it is always appreciated by either.

After digging in the compost around the roots of the plants – rhubarb is what they call a gross feeder, it likes a lot of decaying organic matter – I stood up to check the perimeters of my admittedly large property in Rosedale – which, for those of my readers who may live in Britain or New York or even Scranton, is an old and once affluent section of the city of Toronto, Canada. My husband, Dexter, and I acquired this property after Dexter made a fortune from his patented anti-Alzheimer’s bottled energy drink, Glowing Skull, with its secret plant-derived neuron-altering formula.

It is by the way libelous to suggest – as some have done – that the present outbreak traces its origins to the widespread consumption of Glowing Skull and its effects on a certain strain of cold virus. If things were not such a trainwreck in the legal profession – how many firms have been decimated by partner predation? – I’d already be suing.

The sun was glinting off the double line of broken-bottle glass topping my high stone wall. The glass keeps them out as a rule, though occasionally one claws his or her way over, sustaining multiple lacerations, after which I’ve found it fairly simple to finish them off with a garden tool. The three-pronged cultivator is quite good, though the long-handled item with the gutter-excavating thing on the end – pointed, with a killer blade – is the best. Their skulls are soft, more or less like pumpkins, so it doesn’t take much force.

Decapitation is conventionally assumed to be the coup de grace, though I myself take off the arms and legs just to make sure. Even if they aren’t totally dead – with them, death is relative and may take place by degrees, as with sharks – a torso with no means of propulsion is no threat. Even if it’s rolling slowly towards you, it can be briskly sidestepped and then spiked with the four-tined fork. The problem has been disposal: opening the main gate in order to trundle out the torsos and assorted parts for curbside pickup is always risky. One never knows what may be lurking. For those occasions, I carry a fire extinguisher, and the tree pruners for good measure. Ordinary guns, needless to say, are no use whatsoever. You’d need a canon.

The first time I dismembered one I dug it into the vegetable plot, among the rhubarb, where I’m sure it did some good. But it was a lot of work for someone of my age, and it attracted rats.