It was called “Tika Zika”. They gave us instructions to lock ourselves away from each other. No neighbors, friends, nothing–no matter what. My niece played with my daughter a few steps away when the alert flashed on my tablet. We were told to shelter in place.
“Dad, what’s up?” I grabbed my Delphius tablet and flopped on the sofa. He looked gaunt.
“Meh, quarantine life, you know?” He joked and fluttered his eyelashes, “Better?”
“Anyway, I wanted to make sure you and the girls were safe. It’s our daily check-in.”
“I needed to lock the girls in the bathroom. They broke one of the barriers.” I started my inspection check at the entrance to my apartment. The huge government issued metal door sealed us in. No cracks, of course.
My dad didn’t speak for a minute or two. “Shit. Did you check for cracks near the baseboards or along the walls? Maybe it came in through a crack or something.”
“Dad, they ran outside for a minute because they said it smelled ‘old’ in here. I caught them before they went too far and dragged them back inside.”
“Why don’t you switch to your watch? I can’t hear you on the tablet.”
“Right, no problem.” I set the tablet on the small table by the door and tapped my watch. A screen popped up. “Better?”
“Ah, yeah, much better.” He gave me a thumbs up.
“I’m gonna look for more cracks, okay?”
“Sure. Protect my girls. All of you.”
“Aw, c’mon Dad.” I walked to my left through the small hall and into the kitchen. I looked up at the screened exhaust fan before I checked the kitchen cabinets.
“Do you have a candle? If you light a candle, hold it around the perimeter of the places and if the flame moves, you’ve got yourself an opening,” my father said.
“Ah, I got a stick of incense.” I opened a drawer, pulled out a stick, lit it, and waved it around to extinguish the flame. A plume of smoke from the stick swirled in the air. “Kitchen’s clear.”
“Good.” I heard him sigh. “Going into the living room?”
I walked out of the kitchen into the biggest room of my unit, the living room. Painting an accent wall blue with clouds and flowers was a family event. The wall seemed like a small piece of outside inside.
Walking through the hall felt like picking through a maze, I stepped over dolls, pushed game pieces out of my way with my foot before I crawled on the floor and checked any tiny spaces and gaps. I think I did it more to convince my dad than for my benefit. I sealed any slight cracks I’d found in the wall before I moved in. No harm in double-checking the baseboards though.
“Clear!” I exhaled when I stood.
“The patio door. I lucked out with this place. First one in the family with green space.”
“Uh, lots of green space. You mean ‘backyard’. It’s what we called it in my time, anyway. You know, place for the kids to run around and get some fresh air.”
I glanced at him on the screen. His smile seemed forced. He wiped at the small beads of sweat on his forehead.
“How are the plants?”
I looked at the small, green jungle on the deck, “Still alive, always a good sign with me.”
“Keep walking.” He cleared his throat, his tone pushing me forward.
“Right. Headed into the kid’s bedroom.” I stepped through a tiny hallway and into the bedroom. I felt a breeze and gasped.
“It’s like the temperature dropped.”
“Not good. Not good at all.” He mumbled.
My eyes scanned the room until I saw it. A sliver of an opening in the window.
“They opened the fucking window.”
I set the stick of incense on the pink nightstand. I stepped on the bed and straddled between the nightstand and the bed. Then, I pushed the window closed.
“Did you check the screen? Did you close the screen?!” I heard him yell.
I didn’t want to look. I needed to look. I peeked, “Screen is still intact!”
We both sighed.
“I don’t hear the kids.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna keep checking, Dad.”
“Well, are the girls okay?” I heard him light a cigarette and take a long inhale. He does that when he’s stressed.
“I quarantined them in the bathroom, remember? When one of them ran outside again, I went into freak-out mode. I gave them shots and put them in a tent in the tub.”
He made a small noise, “I don’t think those shots work.”
“Not now, Dad. I’m sure they do. Why would the government—”
“They want to monitor us. I thought I explained this to you. See, back in the sixties—.”
“Sorry I opened the conspiracy door.”
“Anyway…I’m checking my bedroom.” My hand trembled as I reached for the doorknob. I’d rather watch for more “Tika Zika Updates” and the hysteria that ensues.
“You guys holding up okay? Need anything?” he asked.
“No outside contact, remember? It’s been a few months, right? We’re living on tablets and old frozen fusion meals over here. I’ll bet the girls are sick of each other.” I shuffled around my bedroom.
My window better not be open, not even a sliver. Otherwise, someone will get that ass blessed. “Shouldn’t even be in here anyway.”
“What’d you say? You mumbled something.” Dad lit another cigarette. I heard his voice shake as he inhaled.
The dark-colored walls in my bedroom shut out the daylight. I felt like I slept in a tomb and I loved it. I pressed the button next to the window and raised the shutters. “Window’s still closed.”
“You know, these celebrities brought this shit from wherever…” Dad started in with another of his conspiracies. “And I think they should be the ones to pay all of us for missing work and whatnot. I mean, there’s only so much you can do at home.”
“Only so much you can do at home with kids.” I pressed the button and the shutters snapped shut.
“You know how ‘the system’ works, right?”
I sat on the bed and pulled my last vapor stick from my nightstand. I hated vaping in front of the kids. I hated vaping period, but nowadays it’s the only thing helping my anxiety.
“Are you vaping?” His voice rose.
“At this point, Dad, what does it matter Besides, it’s better than cigarettes,” I said.
“Vapor sticks, cigarettes…both of these will kill us anyway,” Dad said.
The first hit filled my brain with weeks old thoughts running around in the grass. Outside, we laughed and blew bubbles. Dad stopped by, along with my sister – and her family – and I cooked on the grill. The kids jumped in the air and giggled, while the neighbor’s dog tried to eat the bubbles. She was a tiny dog and had to get a running start before she flew through the air.
My sister and her husband decided to run to the corner store to pick up something. Of course, I offered for them to leave the kids here with me. They took their whiny son and left the girl.
Dad went with them to get more rolling papers for some black-market tobacco he purchased underground. Everyone would be right back.
My watch beeped to announce the delivery. I ordered enough groceries for a small army before all of this madness started. I yelled for my kid, Terra, to put away the groceries. Any competent nine-year-old could do that-right?
She called her younger cousin, Zeezee, in to help her. I mean, what could a five-year-old do with some lettuce but drop it on the floor?
They laughed and unpacked-and dropped the lettuce on the floor.
Then, the alarms started.
Screeching sirens filled the apartment. The girls dropped everything, covered their ears, and screamed. I checked my Delphius watch. A holoscreen popped up with the words “Quarantine” in huge letters, as news anchors announced we needed to “shelter in place” and use our equipment from the government.
“We have had several deaths in Quad Eight. Several prominent deaths of celebrities from an unknown virus. We don’t have much information, but we do know they vacationed in the Southern Regions and one of them brought it back.” The disheveled female news anchor rambled.
“We have some footage, I think,” the male news anchor said as he pressed his finger to his ear and nodded.
“How did we get this footage? Where’s it from?” the female news anchor looked into the camera. “Was this from a reliable source?”
“I believe it was sent to us, Cindy,” he said to her before looked into the camera, “John, run that footage!”
I grabbed the burgers off the grill and watched as a blonde celebrity pranced around in a glass room-maybe her bathroom or something?
“Babe, I’m showing! Look at this!” She lifted her shirt, showing her ivory-colored stomach.
She looked like she’d eaten a taco or something. I mean, I looked bigger at two weeks.
“I can’t wait! She’s gonna be so beautiful.” Her rockstar husband smiled as he patted her stomach. His black curls bounced as he filmed himself, “She’s gonna be a babe.”
“Super hot!” She purred.
“Like her hot mom!”
“Honey, I don’t feel so good.” Her voice started to rise, “Is it supposed to move like this?”
Whatever he used to film went into an auto mode. It held its position in the air, away from them as he kneeled and caressed her stomach, “Maybe we should get to the hospi—”
“Oh God! Oh no!” Her body spasmed. She kicked him across the bathroom. He hit his head on the tub.
She started screaming for someone. Another voice entered the room. Her stomach moved like the baby kicked. Not at a few weeks. Babies don’t kick that early. Her blue eyes looked into the camera, “I don’t wanna die. Bodyguards! Where are you going?”
The other voice yelled, “I’m sealing you in and Miss, I’m real sorry.”
“You can’t do that! Don’t you dare! I pay you good money…” She crawled on her side. Her face twisted while she grunted and pushed herself towards the door. The camera panned and followed her.
“Not enough for this shit! Look at your husband! The fuck is wrong with his face?!”
The camera panned back.
I remembered the girls were outside playing, “Get in here and leave the dog alone!” I followed them and put the plate of food on the counter. I remote turned off the grill and slammed the doors shut. I ran over to my front door and typed the emergency authorization code for quarantine into the keypad.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the holoscreen. The starlet turned to stare at him before she mumbled—then screamed. The camera panned down.
He lay on his back, blood poured from the back of his head. Something peeled his eyelid back. It had a strange type of sheen on it, later, I realized it was covered with blood-not a sheen. with the body of a three-inch-long grasshopper-like creature coated in some clear ooze, crawled out of his eyes. The creature’s million legs scampered over the face and down the side, towards the ear. Its huge eyes glanced up before it disappeared.
She screamed even more as his body flounced on its back. The camera no longer moved as she backed away. It closed in on his stomach. Out from the navel, one small thing crawled…then two…then three…then he burst, and a hoard of these flying bugs covered him.
The camera panned to her sprawled on the floor. Her head tilted to the side, dead eyes, and exploded stomach. The bugs crawled around on her body and covered the tiny fetus. While they ate it, a small eyeball rolled across the floor. She seemed to squirm. Her hand reached up to cover the baby. Or fetus…
In the background, the bodyguards yelled that the door wasn’t insulated.
“This is a mandatory quarantine! Stay inside!” The male news anchor yelled.
“Jesus, I’m gonna be sick.”
“Cindy, if you don’t—”
The screen went black.
“Are you checking the bathroom? I don’t hear the girls.” Dad’s voice lowered.
I finished the vapor stick, “Yeah, I’ll check. I mean, at some point we are all bound to be exposed to this shit, right? We’ve all got our shots and stuff…so…”
I stopped in the doorway.
“Right, right and what’s happening?” he asked.
“Mommy, we didn’t mean to do it. She had one on her shoe.”
“Sorry, Auntie. Sorry sorry….”
I stared at their little bodies through the plastic quarantine tent. The shoes sat next to the tub and outside the quarantine tent.
I thought I did everything right.
“Nononono….” I wanted to run to hug them, but I needed to push my way out before the inevitable happened.
“What’s happening!” Dad yelled.
“The ‘Tika Zika’ is in the tent. Dad, it’s eating them from the inside out.” I stared at the girls, paralyzed with fear.
Their bodies sat upright in the plastic tent in the tub. I stepped closer before I realized their bodies were made of bugs-the same as on the news. They rolled their little heads to stare at me and stretched bug-like arms toward me. Their jaws dropped and unleashed a primal scream before I slammed my hand on the button by the door. I quarantined them in an even bigger plastic tent before they exploded.
I thought I hallucinated the kids talking to me.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” I heard my Dad repeat as I backed out the bathroom.
“I didn’t think to check the shoes. We’ve been in here for all this time.”
I paused and thought, “They burrowed into the bottom of the shoe and planted eggs.”
My hand covered my mouth in shock, “Dad! Can you hear me?! You’ve gotta tell everyone!” I yelled and grabbed at my hair before I dropped to my knees.
“Dad, you gotta tell them about the shoes. Tell them to check the shoes.” My voice was flat. I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them into me, “Okay? The shoes. Don’t forget.”
“Baby girl, it’s gonna be alright. You hear me?” His voice broke, “We are all going to be fine.”
I was angry and afraid. I was also alone now. I just watched my niece and my daughter die in front of me. It seemed like everything was far away. I gazed off into nowhere before I heard my dad yelling.
“Hey! Stay with me! What’s happening?”
I inhaled a deep breath, “I gotta make sure one of them didn’t get out.”
“You okay to do this?”
“Dad, I don’t have a choice.” I stepped into the bathroom.
My pants were ripped on the side. The cut on my leg from the other day. I didn’t get the second tent up fast enough. Sure, as shit stinks, one of those fuckers crawled out and made its way into a cut on my leg. I felt the spindly legs creep through my body.
“I’ve got it, Dad.”
“But you’ve got the shot! Take the shot!”
“It’s too late now. They didn’t work. How about them conspiracies now? I mean, nobody’s safe.” I went to my bedroom and laid on my bed. I took off my watch and set it on the nightstand. I found one more vapor stick in the back of the drawer. Vanilla.
“Don’t give up! You’ve gotta fight it!”
“Dad, I don’t have a lot of charge left in my watch.”
“Let me get an officer or something…”
I felt it crawl up the back of my throat.
I inhaled the vapor stick, “These little fuckers are fast.”
“He said these things would kill me,” I said to myself as I held the vapor stick in front of me.
I heard him trying to explain something to someone, but I tuned out. I felt them crawl away from the smoke unfurling in my lungs. It seemed as though they were waiting for the smoke to leave my lungs. I felt the wiggling beneath my skin. They squirmed inside my legs and my feet…my arms…if I could make it to the end of this vapor stick—
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