The Dead of Summer

Haiti, July 2057

It was tent living, but he was used to it now. Better to be up in the mountains in a tent than to be in the city. The buildings were barely livable there, anyway. The tent, at least, smelled like him and nothing else.

The children all had worms. Allerton knew this was pretty common to the tropics in the rainy season. The mothers in town were putting pastes and oils in their children’s behinds, holding them down and embarrassing them. The kids would wiggle, cry, yell and scratch furiously. The more they scratched the more the worms would spread, but they were just kids with had bigger things to do than worry over their raw bottoms. Their mothers focused solely on their babies’s butts, because everything else was just too difficult to tackle.

Allerton would pass out gel capsules which were anti-parasitic. They would clear up the worms along with other maladies.  Still the mothers would take stone to mortar, grinding up the ancient paste, even after giving their children the Good Doctor’s drug. A mashed yellow paste. They would chase the kids up and down the street with it. The mother’s knew the pills from Allerton were enough to heal them. He thought perhaps they did it out of tradition, remembering when their own parents chased them down  to smear them with paste in all the downpours of the summer.

Allerton was taking anti-parasitics everyday, as he had the day he left Georgia and began to travel. Still, he couldn’t help but feel the need to scratch. Anti-parasitics, anti-malarial drugs, vitamin cocktails, DDT, antifungals, protein packets, sunscreen, blister bandages. Allerton found he was constantly treating himself for tiny ailments which compounded into a generally annoying existence. Not a single part of the cocktail would be any help against the AG-15 or SG Balanced. Those viruses would have wiped out every kid in town. In a few days. The worms would be left alive in their bellies.

Those were all in the cities anyway, and while they were keeping pace with their medical R&D competitors, the viruses weren’t outreaching them. Not yet.

Allerton didn’t feel any threat, but he could see the fear in the faces of the parents.

Far out in the countryside, the sun went down slowly, pink and orange. He laid in the nylon home, that kept out the bugs and the wet air. He knew that the stars couldn’t be seen when it was so cloudy out. Nothing could pierce through the dark around him. Plus, he liked his one man cocoon.

New York City, July 2057

The technicians installed 4 machines in one shift, which confirmed the trend. Dive bars and euro dance clubs were calling in everyday to the DOH, requesting the government issued self-treatment kiosks. The machines were, after all, free and subsidized. Every establishment had a right to request one, as long as they filled out the paperwork. It may have been the liquor distributors that figured it out first, but word spread and now owners and managers were bringing folders into the DOH offices in droves. There was suggestion that bribes could move someone up the waiting list for installment.

Coal Yard, a bar in lower Manhattan, did not have the kind of interior decor that suggested it could afford this kind of bribe, but people do say that line about books and covers.

Connor was tired. The hook-up for the kiosk was clumsy, because he and Tom had been struggling all day with the bulky pieces of it. He doubted the thing would actually ever work. The Department of Health didn’t pay him enough to care, but he knew enough from the engineering job he was laid off from that the construction was shotty. However, Craedle Inc was the only company with a government contract, and any other private option was unreasonably expensive. Connor imagined that behind the lovely, blue lacquered siding that the wires, tubes and hydraulics were much too tightly wound. He wondered if cross contamination was a common issue. Tom didn't have much thoughts about the inner workings of it. He just wanted to try it out.

The happy hour specials were buy one get one free “Brink” shots. Tom was ready to buy one and get one, and as it was their last job for the day, Connor surrendered. He made sure to order a soda water, since her would have to drive the DOH truck back.  

With dark tattoos and an unpleasant scowl, the bartender couldn’t have been better matched with the peeling vintage wallpaper. She poured and nodded. Her face was stuck with just the one grimace.

“I don't know if I fully understand the term.” Connor confessed.

Tom had just finished his first shot, and decided to squeeze in a beer between his second. He pushed chapped lips to the brown, glass tip of his bottle, and gulped before answering Connor.

"It means that you drink so much that you're on the brink of death, or at least some kind of poisoning."

"And the idea is to use the kiosk as a safety net?" Connor was disturbed.

"That's what it's for." Tom responded, waving his hand dismissively.  

Connor thought over Tom's explanation, watching the bartender glance back and forth between her only customers. “Yea, but aren't they supposed to prevent death?

Tom looked over the bottle in his hand and said, “If you’re healthy to walk up and sit in it and press the button, then you’re not anywhere close to dying.”

“You could just as easily put someone in it and press the shit for them.” Connor argued.  

The bartender then leaned over, grabbing the tap line tightly. Connor and Tom both looked up at her surprised. She paused and smiled weakly at Connor.  

She whispered, “You could resurrect someone in there.”  

Baldwin, Georgia, US July 2057

For those in church who were on pain killers, the air was buzzing.

It was Sunday, of course, and the ceiling fans high up on the rafters could not battle with the Georgia summer heat. The congregation never did contribute all that much. Certainly not enough to have central air installed in the rickety chapel.

The minister thought about how his congregation was spending most of their money on optional-issued pain medication to supplement their government given minimum. Yet, they could not get enough money between them for some air and comfort in their own church. It was the place that would bring them peace in death.  

Occasionally, he’d say to himself Let them roast.

“Now y’all, it is most obvious by these plagues, this spread of satanic destruction, that our Father is truly against this society. He seeks to cleanse. Like the fresh juice that many want for cleansing their internal organs! Our Father is trying to cleanse our together souls. Can't you see it? We are given health as a gift, a blessing, and we should nurture it. Like we would nurture our offspring. However, we abuse it. We push it to the farthest extreme, then seek out the quick fix. Love in the Lord is not meant to be a quick fix. It is work and dedication and commitment. The Lord will give us back our bodies and our wellness. If we give into his way.”

Emily watched a sweat droplet move from the minister’s hairline, wiggling and zagging across his wrinkles. Once the bead reached the bridge of his nose, it suspended there for a moment, gathering itself. It slimmed and traveled down the side of his nose into the groove of his grin wrinkles. Or his frown wrinkles. Or his wrinkles that were formed by spending hours looking out on the church, looking down and telling them about the plague they were supposed to be enduring. All of that intense belief must have created deep, sunken crevices for sweat to pool in.

She found it easier to focus on the glistening of his forehead, than his sermon. She was also avoiding the thought of Judson, her dead boyfriend.

Emily thought over and over about how she may not have a place to live anymore. She really should have been concerned with the fact that her boyfriend died on their kitchen table in front of her. Not that she noticed it happen, because she was too high. However, now all she could dwell on though, was whether or not that table would still be "her’s", now that it was no longer “their’s.”

She was running out of money and most importantly running out of her dead boyfriend’s leftover stash. The drugs were keeping the image of him fuzzy. Sometimes, she was subjected to a flash of Judson keeled over his mother’s chipped china. She knew that without the drugs, she would have a crisp, clean view everytime she closed her eyes. She couldn’t go home just yet. Maybe she would go to the bar after church, and get so drunk they could take her to the clinic. Then she would actually have a place to stay that wouldn’t be considered squatting.

At least for a few days. At least comfortably.