The streets were void of life and his cigarette was wet, proving that not even a dying man could have one last enjoyment. Unbridled streams of tears fell, but the rain hid their existence. He brought the lighter up once more, cursing whatever god there was left to listen, and watched as the flame danced wildly under the shelter of his palm, and ignited the end of the cigarette for the fourth time. Inhaling the chemicals, he shut out the world with a heavy sigh.
Twenty-four hours. That was how long it took to die from the disease that had spread like wildfire across Detroit and then the entire country. At first, millions died within the first few weeks but some medical prodigy came out with an antidote that stopped it in its tracks. It was pricey, but between government assistant programs and a spike in jobs due to the demand of getting the medicine to every soul within the states, very few deaths had occurred and those that had, seemed to be isolated in the group of skeptics within the government. By the estimates of renown medical experts across the country, he had a mere few minutes before he collapsed. The horrifying thing about the disease was there were no symptoms before someone keeled over from it- so he would never feel it coming or know when his last breath would be.
A passerby yelled something about how smoking kills before continuing on his merry way. He ignored the advice, knowing his time would come well before the thing in his hand could introduce him to his demise.
Glancing at the wrist watch on his arm, he estimated another five minutes left. As he waited, he thought about his wife and his daughter. They had been his world. Right after their deaths, his folks had convinced him to remain optimistic with that idea that God still had a reason for him to be there, but eventually he come to his senses and denied their Baptist sentiment. There was no longer a need for his existence, not with Patricia and Naya gone. Life without them was not worth living.
He checked the time and sighed, wishing death would hasten. Recalling the first time he had heard about the disease, he leaned back with a rigid spine against the wall and stared out into the curtain of rain ahead of him.
It had been a sunny Saturday afternoon. Naya was eating her marshmallow cereal, watching some children's show and Patty was cooking a kind of soy sausage at the stove. He had been dressed head to toe in a tailored tux, cursing weddings and his sister for changing her mind on the color scheme for the fourth time. Patty started fretting over a string, reasoning that they could deny the return on it if anything was out of place and he had just been getting ready to reassure her that it was okay, when the television show was interrupted with an important breaking news coverage.
A blonde reporter wearing a white dress was sitting in front of the camera, looking grim. "Officials say the disease responsible for thousands of deaths in Detroit has been confirmed in several other states, including Florida. The President briefed the media on the steps being taken to understand this new illness that no medication on the market today has been able to stop. Here is what he said:"
The television switched to the President standing behind a podium, with camera lights flashing around him. Despite his best efforts to appear fine and confident, the bags under his eyes and the worry lines on his forehead, were telling.
"We want to assure the people that all steps are being taken to ensure the safety and the well-being of everyone in the country. The best medical experts and scientists are working to understand this disease and why no medication on the market seems to touch it. They will not rest until an antibody has been discovered and administered to the people in the states effected by the disease. We urge people to remain calm during this time of great distress and know that I make sure this comes to an end, quickly. Thank you."
As he exited the stage, reporters shouted a barrage of questions, but the television switched back to the woman in the newsroom downtown. She shuffled the papers on the desk in front of her before glancing back into the camera.
"Officials urge the public to take caution when out and about. Be sure to wash hands and use face masks."
Eventually, he had stopped listening and looked to his family. Naya was obviously frightened, but Patty had gone on making breakfast without a word. To anyone else, she would have seemed to be just fine, but he knew when she worried, she busied herself to work out the stress. He touched her shoulder, vowing to protect them no matter the cost.
A few weeks after that, she had gone to pick Naya up from school and had never returned home. When he got the call, he had wanted to go in and see them one last time, but the government had ordered all the bodies to be cremated as soon as they were brought in, in hopes to prevent more spreading of the disease.
He glanced at the time once more, finding it to be inaccurate. The hand read five minutes after the time he was to die. He flicked it, but the hand did not budge. He lingered there.
After a few more cigarettes, he checked the time again and found that another hour had passed. He frowned, glanced around, and headed south down the street. Something did not feel right. All medical reports, down to the last google document he had read, had reported how consistent the disease was. No one survived after twenty-four hours- not the healthiest soul. At a run-down apartment, he pushed the buzzard to the fifth floor, third room, and waited.
"Yeh?" came a lazy male voice on the speaker.
"Ring me in," he all but shouted back. His heart was racing.
As soon as the beep sounded, he flung open the door and climbed the steps- skipping two steps at a time along the way. He found the apartment open when he got to the room, and quickly entered before locking it behind him. Tom, an old high school classmate, was sprawled out on the couch in, what used to be white but now, brown briefs and a rugged t-shirt. He lit a smoke and rubbed his eyes.
"Do you know what time it is?" he asked, before taking a drag. "It's bloody four in the bloody morning, you bloody jerk. What in the name of the god of sleep, are you doing here?"
Pacing the floor, he ran his hands through his hair. "Tom, I'm alive. I'm not dead. They said you'd die, but I didn't. Maybe, I'm immune."
Tom coughed, exhaling puffs of smoke as he did. He waved them aside as he replied, "Bloody right you're not blood dead. There ain't going to be no more carpet left after your bloody, alive feet get done tearing it up. What the bloody hell are you talking about?"
Normally, Tom's fake accent and his over use of the word 'bloody' would irritated him to the point of leaving, but he ignored all of that and stopped pacing long enough to bum a cigarette off of Tom and plop down in the chair next to the couch. He bounced his leg repeatedly as he thought over everything.
"Dude, you're freaking me out. What's going on?" Tom asked, flicking ashes into a nearby ashtray.
"I stopped take the medicine and I am not dead."
"What? You stopped taking the bloody medicine? Do you realize that you could expose me, right?" His friend shook his head and inched over to the far side of the couch.
He took a breath. "I'm not dead. I think I might be immune."
Tom scoffed. "No one is immune. Millions died, does that not register?"
"I'm telling you, it's been twenty-six hours and I'm not dead yet. Maybe, there's something online about people being immune to it." It would make sense, really. During every outbreak, there were always a lucky few that remained healthy.
Shrugging, Tom opened the laptop on the end table beside him and pulled up the internet. He typed in something on the search bar and numerous articles appeared. Some were hoax, but a particular one caught his eye.
"Here, click on that one," he instructed. Tom obliged and an article someone had written in Connecticut told of how they had stopped taking the medication only to discover they had not died. An hour later, they were still scrolling through online reports of people not dying after stopping the dosages. When they happened to find one about a government conspiracy, he leaned back in his chair and mulled over everything. He, plus however many who had written the articles or replied to them, were somehow immune. They had something in themselves that resisted the disease. Maybe, if there was a way to pinpoint what that was, they could stop it all. He could help stop what killed Patty and Naya.
"This makes sense," Tom said beneath his breath as he read the government conspiracy article. "Have you seen this? Read it."
"It's nothing but hoax, Tom."
"No. Listen, the government killed all those people as a population control method. Then, they came up with some drug that people had to pay for to get and suddenly everyone is cured?"
"What about those in the government that died?" he pointed out, pulling out anther cigarette.
Tom shrugged. "So they refuse to buy into this lie and they are killed along with everyone else."
"Okay." He would play. "After the disease is 'cured,' the government continues the charade? That makes no sense. Eventually, they know they'll be found out."
"Unless there is another epidemic." Tom showed him the computer screen. "It says a leak has let out that the government is planning another epidemic to cover up what they did."
He snorted, picking up the lighter. "Yeah, and then the market crashes and they lose everything."
"Not unless the pharmaceutical companies are offering incentive to keep it quiet. There's got to be something else, though, none of this makes sense." Tom pulled the computer back toward him and began searching online.
He was not sure what was happening. Nothing was adding up. He only knew that he was alive when he was supposed to be dead. Just then, the front door of the apartment was kicked in and a team of gunmen pooled in. He glanced up just in time to look down a barrel before the masked man on the other end pulled the trigger.