Patient Zero eventually adapted to the virus. She was one of the lucky ones–or so they told her. Except now she had to live with being the progenitor of an epidemic that killed millions. Those who were left all had survivor’s guilt, but Zero had a whole different kind of guilt.
She hadn’t left her house in nearly a month, but she was out of food now. She had spent the last three days crunching on ice cubes from her freezer, but it didn’t help. Maybe she just deserved to die, here in her tiny house, alone. The way she was supposed to when the virus took hold. Except she lived. She couldn’t die. Her body was too stubborn. So she went to the grocery store.
Zero used to have a security entourage following her around, keeping the mobs at bay. The angry family members of the deceased. As though it were her fault. The amount of news PSAs telling the public to leave her alone made her infamous.
And even though she shaved her head and wore heavy makeup to turn her into someone else, the eyes followed her. The survivors, going about their post-vaccine, post-cure lives. They looked at her like they knew her from long ago, and never realized she didn’t die. A celebrity that fell out of the spotlight. Might as well be dead.
She escaped the searching eyes by speed-walking into the grocery store. The cool breeze stores use to keep the bugs from entering swatted her in the face. A holdover from the mosquito scare, when they didn’t know how the plague was spreading. She made it into the store and picked up a basket.
There were too many people inside, and they knew who she was. She wanted to avoid the deli most of all, but people didn’t trust the meat anymore, so it was the only place no one would be. She stepped past the lumps of flesh glistening on display. Two years ago, the wrong animal made contact with the wrong bug, which had made contact with the wrong other animal, and it cocktailed into a deadly sickness just waiting to be purchased. Zero was the one who purchased it. It could have been anyone, but God drew Zero’s name from his celestial hat. Nothing that happened after that was her fault.
“It was you,” said the butcher. Zero jumped–she hadn’t seen him standing there, behind the glistening slabs.
“I’m sorry,” said Zero. Two words that beat in her head like the drumming of her immortal heart.
“I’m alone now,” the butcher said. He was holding a hatchet.
“So am I.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Customers surrounded the deli, watching the exchange.
“I agree,” said Zero.
The butcher stepped out from behind the deli counter. Zero put down her empty basket. The butcher struck her once in the neck, then again in the chest, and then again somewhere else, but at this point Zero wasn’t thinking of pain. She was thinking of rest. Blood splashed the butcher’s smock, and the butcher wept, and he struck her again while the customers watched.
She woke up in the hospital five days later. The doctor said she was lucky. They got to her just in time. She was lucky.
They offered her food. She refused.
Today’s three prompt categories were, “Out of a hat,” “Adapt,” and, “Patient Zero.”
Tough break, Zero.