The Peeling, Part One – Iain Rob Wright

BOOK SUMMARY

 

TODAY THE WORLD GOT SICK…
The Peeling is a series of novellas set in a world ravaged by a deadly plague. Each book follows the individual story of one of the survivors of this horrible new existence. They can be enjoyed as standalone tales or as part of a larger, overall narrative.
—————————————

BOOK 1: Jeremy’s Choice
Being a security guard at a news station meant Jeremy found out about the peeling before anybody else. But that didn’t prevent the deadly, unknown virus from infecting his wife. After years of neglect, unfaithfulness, and lies, is it finally time for Jeremy to do right by the woman he loves? Or is it too late?

BONUS CONTENT
 – Also includes the following short story:
— The Peeling Of Samuel Lloyd Collins

This novella was written using the UK dictionary.  Certain spellings may vary in other English speaking territories.

 

THE PEELING:  Book 1

Jeremy’s Choice

Iain Rob Wright

 

The Never Stop News Studio seemed cramped and small with all the bodies currently occupying it.  The typical skeleton crew of six or seven had swelled to at least four times that amount in the last few hours as people crammed in front of the station’s news desk while its two young reporters prepared to go live with the evening’s story.  The overcrowding had made Jeremy’s job a lot more difficult.

Jeremy was a security guard for Never Stop News, responsible for keeping out anyone not invited to be there.  With the news studio and its roaming reporters providing live content twenty-four hours a day there was always a risk that some anarchic member of the public with a grudge and a message would try to sneak in front of the cameras to interrupt the feed.  With current events, and the public being as frightened as they were, the risk of a security breach had skyrocketed.  People wanted answers, and when people wanted answers they came after the Government first and the journalists a close second.  With so many people filling up the claustrophobic studio, it was extremely difficult for Jeremy to keep his eye on everybody.  It was even harder to keep his mind on them with what was happening in the world.

There was just one more hour to go before Jeremy was relieved by the night guard – just one more hour.  But he couldn’t deny that he dreaded staying even one minute longer.  Bad things were happening, starting almost a full week ago, and the situation didn’t seem to be getting any better.  He didn’t want to be here anymore; didn’t want to hear another bloody thing about The Peeling.

The studio was silent and the lights went down as the countdown till live began.  The network was currently running a pre-recorded football report on its dedicated satellite channel and on its website, but it would turn back to the two co-anchors in less than seven-seconds.

“Okay, guys,” one of the production assistants said.  “You’re on in three…two…”

Sarah Lane, one of the anchors, cleared her throat and said, “Good evening, guys.  My name is Sarah Lane and I’m here to give you all the latest news.  Things are still pretty bad in the UK right now, but rest assured me and Tom will be bringing you all of the facts for the next few hours.  So get yourself a nice hot cuppa and snuggle up on that sofa as Never Stop News will be looking after you tonight.”

Jeremy still struggled to accept such a casual approach to the news.  Sarah and Tom were only mid-twenties and were allowed to dress and talk as such.  Never Stop News’s whole premise was to provide the day’s events with a laid-back and youthful approach.  Their slogan was: All the news.  None of the old.  Jeremy found it even more surprising that such an approach had been successful.

Never Stop’s hip approach to the news had gained them a younger audience unattainable to the traditional networks.  It had even started to eat into the more mature demographics as well.  It seemed that people were tired of the stuffiness of days gone by and were happy to get the news from a bunch of bubbly youngsters.  As a consequence, the Never Stop News Corporation was one of the fastest growing media companies in the world.  Jeremy imagined that the lovely Sarah Lane had at least a small part in that success.  Her shapely legs and curved figure, always on display beneath the glass news desk, were a constant feature of trashy celeb magazines.

The equally attractive, and immaculately-groomed, Tom Connors, took the lead from Sarah and got started with the programme.  “I’m Tom Connors and, as we’ve been reporting all week, the current crisis in the UK and – we’ve now been told – many other parts of the world, has escalated to devastating levels.  It has been reported that upwards of four-million people have been affected so far and that number has continued to rise hour-by hour.  With no end to the situation in sight, there is a fear that the current number of casualties is just a small percentage of what will turn out to be the final number.”

Sarah Lane took over again.  “While both Private and Public sectors are working tirelessly to find both a cause and a solution, it is clear that the world is suffering under what can only be described as – a global plague.  Commonly referred to as The Peeling, the unknown virus has spread throughout our nation and others with a virulence never before seen, making even the Spanish flu epidemic seem tame.  Affecting the young and old alike, there is currently no clear vector for contraction.  Government officials admit to knowing nothing about its origin and very little about its pathology.  As previously stated, all members of the public are advised to remain inside their homes and avoid all contact with anyone besides their immediate family.  The military have been permitted to use force where necessary to ensure the spread of the infection is contained.”

Jeremy swallowed back a mouthful of stomach acid.  His reflux had gotten bad the last few days and his pills were at home.  If he had a job anyplace else, he would have left by now, but the news reports were a national requirement while the crisis lasted and, as such, so too was the safety of its messengers.  Jeremy’s security job, in many ways, was a matter of national security.  Pity for England he was just a middle-aged slob with bad acid.

At fifty-two, Jeremy’s limbs were stiffer than they used to be and his arthritic bones ached more often than not.  He was certainly willing to take a stand against anyone looking for trouble, but he couldn’t claim truthfully that he was the best man for the job.  Most days he just hung around in the doorway, half asleep, from nine in the morning till six at night.  Then he went home to his wife – unless he had somewhere else to be.  That was why all of these people in the studio right now were such a thorn in his side; they forced him to concentrate and stay focused despite his weary mind’s desire to shut off.  Most of the people didn’t even need to be there – they were just clerks and office assistants from other floors and departments – but no one wanted to leave while news was still coming through.  Everyone wanted to know more about the disease – in case it got them.  Their fear and panic was almost palpable and Jeremy could sense it hanging over the dimly-lit room like a soiled blanket of poisonous air.

“As we have little fresh news to report from official sources,” Tom told the audience at home.  “We will be turning the air over to you – the public.  For the next two hours we want to hear from you, Great Britain.  We want you to tell us what you’ve seen, and what are your thoughts are about the peeling?  Do you have it?  Does someone you love have it?  Is there any advice you can give to help others out there?  We want to hear from you now.”

Jeremy didn’t know what they expected to get from the public that they didn’t know already.  It was well-documented that the disease started with a tingling sensation in the hands and feet – sometimes the nose and ears – before moving on to a streaming cold and flu-like symptoms.  After a day-or-so of runny nostrils and messy sneezing, the virus really started its magic.  Jeremy shuddered to think about what The Peeling did to a human body then.

“Okay, we have our first caller,” Sarah reported.  “We have Keith on line-1.  Hello, Keith.”

“Hiya, Sarah.  Hiya, Tom.  I just want to say that you’ve been a constant comfort during these last few days.  I don’t have any family and not being able to leave the house has been really hard on me.”

“It’s been hard on a lot of people,” Tom said.  “But right now the only way to stay safe is to lock yourself away.”

“Do you have the peeling, Keith?” Sarah asked in her typical caring manner.  Jeremy couldn’t help but notice that the young girl didn’t seem as calm as she usually did.

There was a pause on the other end of the line, followed by a muffled sound that could only have been sobbing.  Eventually, Keith came back on the line.  “Yes…I have it.  I’ve had it three days…since Wednesday.”

“I’m really sorry to hear that, mate,” Tom said.  “It’s truly terrible what this virus is doing to people.  Absolutely horrifying.”  The reporter took a deep breath and suddenly seemed very tired, as though he’d dropped a mask that had been hiding his true face all along.  Jeremy sympathised from over by the studio’s door.  Tom wasn’t much more than a lad, really, and he had suddenly found himself responsible for consoling an entire nation.

Sarah sat forward on her chair and clasped her hands together on top of the desk.  “Keith?  If it’s not too hard for you, could you tell our viewers what it’s been like since you got ill?  Could you tell us about your symptoms?”

After another short pause, Keith replied that he would.  “I got home from work at about six on the night – I’m a mig-welder.  Anyway, Man U were playing Chelsea, and I wanted to see them get their arses hammered by the blues, so I got some beers in and plonked myself down in front of the telly.  I was happy, you know?”

“We know,” Sarah confirmed.

“Well, I’d been feeling a bit under-the-weather all day and my nose had been running like a tap.  I thought it was just a cold.  I mean, no one really knew what was going on then – it was all just rumours.”  Keith seemed to lose his voice then to a croaking onslaught of tears.

“Just go on when you’re ready, Keith,” Sarah told the man.  “We’re here for you.”

“Right, okay…anyway,” Keith gathered himself.  “I was sat watching the game – that mug, Rooney, had just put one in the back of the net – and I couldn’t help but scratch at my feet the whole time.  Was a bit like pins and needles, but no matter how much I itched or walked around the living room it just wouldn’t go away.  Thankfully it got a little better after a couple beers and I managed to ignore it.”

“What happened next?” asked Tom, filling a brief moment of dead air.

“Then I fell asleep on the sofa.  Do most evenings if I have a drink.  I woke up later in the middle of the night.  I knew it was late because the shopping channel had come on, selling their usual junk – some kind of steam cleaner, I think.  So I sit there for a few minutes, trying to wake up a bit so I can get up and go to bed, but, as soon as I lean forward to stand up, I feel this sharp stab of pain.”

Jeremy rubbed at his eyes in the doorway.  He’d heard enough reports to know where this was heading.

“I look down at my feet,” said Keith, fighting back sobs, “and I can hardly…I can hardly believe what I’m seeing.”

“Tell us, Keith.”

“My feet, they were…oh God…they were like raw steak.  They had no skin.  I could see all the gristle and bone and blood.   They looked like those anatomical dummy things they have in school, you know?  Anyway, like a fool I grab down at them, like I needed to make sure my eyes weren’t still half-asleep and seeing nonsense.  When I touched my feet it was bloody agony.  I almost passed out it was so bad.  Worst pain I’d ever felt…but I would give anything to feel that way now – it was heaven compared to the blinding pain that was to come.  The skin from my ankles started peeling away next, blistering up and peppering the floor like dandruff.  Then it kept going, moving further and further up my legs.  Then it….then it…”  Keith finally allowed himself to sob openly after minutes of fighting it back.  “My dick is gone!  It fell onto the carpet like a goddamn sausage.”

Keith began to wail inhumanely and the phone line went dead.  Jeremy didn’t know if it was the caller or the studio that had cut the conversation short.  Probably the studio; they had a duty not to cause the public any more distress then they were already in.

Sarah smiled awkwardly into the main camera.  “We seem to have lost Keith there, but I’m sure we’re all united in our prayers that his condition gets better.”

“Absolutely,” Tom added.  “I think we should just move on and take the next call, Sarah.”

“That would be Angela Thomas on line-4.”

“We’re all going to die.  God is punishing us for letting the queers and the-”

The line went dead.  This time Jeremy was positive it had been the studio’s doing.  There was nothing like a crisis to bring out the hate-filled vipers from their pits.  England liked to act like all the whackos lived abroad, in less civilised countries, but working in a news studio made it quite clear that there were as many nutjobs here as there were anywhere else.  Maybe even more.

Jeremy checked his watch.  There was only forty minutes left till he could leave, but it still seemed like an eternity.  At home, his wife was sick, too – like so many other people – and it felt like a betrayal not to be with her, looking after her.  He’d betrayed her for most of their twenty-years of marriage, with various other women and his hidden gambling habit, but failing her now was enough to make his guilt muscle finally take notice.  He was a hypocrite, that much was true, but he knew there were times when a man needed to step up and be selfless for the woman he loved; this was one of them.  The entire nation lived in hope that The Peeling would soon be dominated by a cure, that man would triumph over nature once again as it had always done.  But Jeremy knew better.  He knew that the virus wasn’t just bird-flu on steroids.  This was the end.

Even if the virus was destroyed, the amount of death it was due to cause would be monumental.  Millions, maybe even billions if it hit the third world.  Society would never be the same again.  Perhaps that meant Jeremy could have one last chance to be a decent man again, to be a good husband – even if it was only for the handful of days his wife had left.  She could get better, sure, but something in his gut told him not to hold onto that hope.

He had to get home.

The next call came from line-2.  A cantankerous old man, named Bob.  “It’s them bloody Koreans, I’m tellin’ ya.  I’d blame the Arabs, too, if I could, but they don’t have the smarts for this.  North Korea has been closed off to the rest of the word for decades.  We don’t know what they’ve been up to, do we?  But I tell you one thing for nought: they’ve obviously been plotting the downfall of the western world this whole time.  Kim Jong Il arranged for it to happen before he died and, surprise surprise, a virus the likes of which the world has never seen has come out of a country no one knows anything about.  Prime Minister Lloyd-Collins knew about it; tried to do something about it, too, before he died.”

Sarah butted in while she had chance.  “Now, Bob, it’s already been established that North Korea has been affected like everyone else.  Early reports that they were the instigators of this pandemic turned out to be false.  Prime Minister Lloyd-Collins’s directive to bomb their country was just the paranoid actions of a dying man.  General Harvey Whitehead was right to do what he did by holding emergency cabinet hustings.”

“All so he could get in power,” Bob asserted.

“Come on,” said Sarah.  “Do you really believe that?  General Whitehead was only made Acting Prime Minister temporarily because his military background is exactly the skillset needed to help manage the nation through this crisis.  His decision to ignore Lloyd Collins – God rest his soul – probably averted nuclear war.”

“And also let the bloody Koreans get away scot-free, to boot.  You bloody watch what happens now.  This time next year we’ll all be slaves to a bunch of slitty-eyed-“

The line went dead.

Jeremy had heard enough of this.  Holding a public phone-in was just morbid and macabre.  There would be no hope gained from talking with people at home, for they were the most hopeless and lost of all.  The men and woman of the United Kingdom were floundering helplessly in the dark, rotting away slowly in both body and mind.  Their sad stories would do nothing but spread more suffering, infecting people’s thoughts in the same way the disease infected their flesh.

The whole thing was pointless.

Jeremy had just made the decision to abandon his post when a ruckus erupted in the corner of the studio.  A handful of people had begun to scuffle with one another while others backed away fearfully.  Angry voices filled the air and bounced off the narrow walls, interrupting the on-going news report.

“We seem to be having a few problems here in the studio,” Sarah told the audience.  “I think we should cut to a commercial break briefly, but don’t go anywhere, guys.  We’ll be right back.”

Sarah and Tom stood up from their desk and headed away from the violence, whilst Jeremy shot past them and headed for the centre of the squabbling crowd.  As he got nearer, he realised that it was not a fight that had broken out but an attack on a single individual.  A pair of men and one woman were kicking hatefully at a downed body.

“Everybody, back away NOW!”  Jeremy hollered at the group with great force in his voice.  While he may not have been a physically imposing man, he had a voice that commanded attention.  The group of people immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at him.  Their victim remained huddled and whimpering on the floor.  Jeremy saw that it was just a girl – blonde and pretty, perhaps as young as twenty.

“She has it!” cried a woman in a power suit and neck scarf.  Her face was dripping with anger.  “The bitch has it and tried to hide it.”

Jeremy looked down at the girl shaking on the floor and saw no signs of the disease on her.  He looked up at the power-suited woman and raised his eyebrow.  “What?”

“It’s true,” said a tall Black man next to her.  “She’s been sneezing none-stop for the last hour.”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow.  “Sneezing?  A young girl sneezes and you all think you have the right to attack her?  A big strong man like you?”

“She deserves it.  We could all be infected because of her.  I have a family.”

“Then you should be with them, instead of hanging around here and acting like a thug.  Now help her up off the floor.”

The man shook his head.  “Fuck no.  You pick her up.  I’m not touching her.”

Jeremy took a step forwards and stared the man hard in the face.  “You just did touch her, with your fists, as I recall.  Help her up now.  I won’t ask you again.”

The taller, larger man just laughed at Jeremy, then shoved out with both arms.  Jeremy acted quickly, grabbing one of the man’s thick, bony wrists and pulling him off balance.  Then he kicked out and took the man’s legs clean from under him, sending him down to the floor with a thump.  Jeremy was just about to follow the man down and deliver a knockout punch when Sarah called out to him.

“Jeremy, don’t!  I’ll help the girl up and we’ll take her somewhere to lie down.”

Jeremy looked up at the young news anchor and was confused.  “Sarah, you have the news to be getting on with.”

“We’re on a break.  Tom can handle things for ten minutes.”  She glared at the nearby crowd and shook her head.  “You people should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Sarah went over to the fallen girl and knelt one side of her.  Jeremy knelt the other.  Together they gathered the woozy young woman to her feet and walked her away from the baying crowd.  There were a whole host of angry mutterings that followed after them, but no one had the guts to act out after what had happened to their ring leader.

Jeremy and Sarah took the girl out into the corridor.  “We can take her to my dressing room,” Sarah said.

Jeremy nodded.  It was a kind offer and that was why he had always liked Sarah.  She was as friendly as anybody else, despite being a national sex symbol.  Her ego had every right to be much larger than it was.

They half-carried, half-dragged the girl into the dressing room and set her down on a plush sofa that filled one side of the space.  She was weak and upset, but seemed to be coherent.

“Are you okay?” Jeremy asked her.

Her eyes had filled with tears, but she nodded.  “I don’t think they would have stopped.”

“Goddamn animals,” Sarah said.  “They should be arrested.”

The girl waved her hand.  “It’s okay.  I’m just going to go home and forget about it.  Can I just rest here for a while first?”

“Of course you can, sweetheart.  Take as long as you need.”

“Is it true what they said,” Jeremy asked the girl.  “Do you have The Peeling?”

“I…don’t know.  I have the sniffles, but I’ve been sneezing for a few days now and nothing else has happened.”

“You just have a cold,” said Sarah.  “If you’ve been sneezing that long and haven’t come down with other symptoms then you’re fine.”

Jeremy nodded and let out sigh.  Despite millions of people being sick, it was still a relief to know that this one young girl was going to be okay – for now.

The girl laughed pitifully.  “I think people forget that The Peeling didn’t make all of the other, regular illnesses go away.  Not every sneeze means you have the plague.”

“Exactly,” Sarah said.  “Now you just relax here until you feel better.  There’s water in the fridge and some cookies.  Help yourself.”

“Thank you, Miss Lane.  You’re really kind – kinder than I would have expected you to be.”

“Yeah,” Jeremy agreed.  “A big celebrity like you, mixing with the common people like us.”

Sarah bopped him on the arm playfully.  “Don’t be silly.  I’m C-List at best.  Anyway, I have a feeling that the world will have little need for celebrities soon.”

The girl frowned.  “You shouldn’t think the worst.  The world will get through this, one way or another.  Not everyone is getting sick.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Sarah said, but didn’t seem to believe it.  In fact she seemed close to tears.  She took Jeremy by the arm and led him back out into the corridor.  It seemed like she wanted to tell him something.

“Is everything alright?” Jeremy asked her, noticing the tears that were brimming at her eyelids.

“No, it’s not alright.  Things are definitely not alright, Jeremy.  You don’t know the half of it.”

“What do you mean?”

Sarah leant back against the wall of the corridor and for a moment it looked like she might collapse completely.  “I have the producers in my ear nonstop, telling me facts, figures, things to say – and what not to say.  We’re not telling the public anything close to the truth.”

“They know the truth.  It’s right there in front of their faces.”

Sarah shook her head.  “They’re all locked up inside while police and military patrol the roads.  All they see is what’s out their windows.”

Jeremy wasn’t following.  “So what is the truth?”

“That there’s thirty-million dead, not four.  The worldwide estimates are over half a billion.  The USA and most of Europe are decimated.”

Jeremy’s stomach swelled up against his ribcage.  Vomit rose in his throat.  “You’re telling me that half of the UK is infected already, in less than a week?”

“The NHS has estimated that the virus affects one-in-two people.  Everyone has a fifty-fifty chance.  They’ve also put the chance of death at 100%.  Anyone who catches the disease will die.  No exceptions.”

“But you haven’t been telling people that.  You’ve been reporting the infections, but you haven’t said that all people are dying.  You’ve even implied that there’s a good chance of recovery for some people.”

“I don’t make the decisions about what to report, Jeremy.  The peeling doesn’t just kill people instantly.  They suffer for days first.  The death toll has only just begun as the first people to catch it have had it for almost a week now and are only now starting to drop.  We didn’t know at first that the virus would kill in all cases, but with the data coming through today, it’s clear that no one is surviving.  The Government are trying to make the decision on whether to go public with the information or not.”

“The Government?  What right do they have to dictate to the news outlets?”

“They can control information in a national crisis.  They always have.”

Jeremy stood wearily in the corridor, shocked and sickened.  He had known The Peeling was a plague beyond anything ever seen, but he hadn’t thought it powerful enough to wipe out half of the world – 50/50.  There would be no containing it, no cure – just unimaginable death and suffering that would linger in the consciousness of man for centuries.  He looked at Sarah and could not imagine the burden she was forced to carry – to have such information, but unable to share it.

“What are you going to do?” he asked her.

“I’m going to finish up tonight and then go home.  I’m finished after tonight.”

“You’re quitting?”

“Not exactly.”

“What then?”

Sarah took in a deep breath and let it out slowly through her pointed nose.  She stared at Jeremy for a moment, and then put her left hand to her right sleeve.  She rolled up her cuff and exposed her wrist.”

Jeremy shook his head in disgust.  “No.  You can’t have it!”

The wound on her arm was puckered and wet, the skin gone, exposing the flesh of the muscle beneath.  A tangy odour filled the room like spoiled bananas.

“I’ve been hiding a cold the last couple days, but I didn’t know I had it for sure until this morning.  Noticed it in the shower.  It’s already spread twice as much since then.”

Jeremy rubbed both hands down his face and imagined the skin peeling off beneath his fingernails.  He was one of the lucky ones, so far; the right side of the 50/50.

“You’re sure there’re absolutely no survivors?” he asked.  “There’s nothing the NHS can do?  The World Health Organization?”

Sarah shook her head and actually seemed somewhat resigned to her fate.  Maybe she felt luckier to be one of the infected than one of the healthy – least for them the nightmare had an end in sight.

“I’m already dead,” she said.  “I don’t know if I’m infectious, but I don’t want to take the risk anymore.  I’m going straight home tonight and staying there.  It’s where I’d rather be, anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” Jeremy told her and he truly meant it.  “I…wish there was something I could do or say.”

Sarah rolled her sleeve back down, covering her wound.  “I’m just glad you don’t have it as well.  As long as some of us get through this then I guess things aren’t completely doomed.”

“My wife has it.  She came down with it three days ago now.”

Sarah put her hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and squeezed.  “Then I’m sorry, too.  You should go home and take care of her.”

Jeremy glanced at his watch.  “My shift isn’t-”

“It doesn’t matter.  I don’t think anything really matters anymore.  This is just the calm before the storm.  Things are about to fall to pieces and the only thing we can do is look after the people we love.  Go home, Jeremy.  Look after your wife.”

Jeremy watched Sarah return to the studio and knew that it would be the last time he ever saw her in person again.  He hoped her passing would be peaceful, but that was a luxury The Peeling gave to no one.  She would feel pain beyond anything she had previously imagined, and then she’d die – adding to the statistics that she’d been reporting for the last week.

It was time to go home.  Sarah had been right about nothing mattering anymore.  If those people in the studio wanted to start fights then let them.  Jeremy wasn’t about to waste another minute watching over a bunch of unruly strangers turn on each other.  The news studio was on the second floor so he had to take the stairs downwards to reach the building’s exit.  The reception area was empty, its staff all sick and dying at home.  Jeremy knew most of them, but not well enough to grieve them.  He headed for the heavy glass doors that led outside to the parking lot.

Outside were several vehicles belonging to people inside.  Sarah’s Jeep Cherokee was parked next to Tom’s more audacious Jaguar, and beyond them both was Jeremy’s Ford Focus.  He took out his keys as he headed over and pressed the fob.  The car’s lights flashed twice and the doors were unlocked.  He opened the driver’s side and slid behind the wheel.

Turning the ignition, Jeremy started the engine.  The needle on the fuel gauge headed towards empty and stopped a little ways off.  He laughed.  Some things would never change, no matter what happened to the world; cars would always run out of fuel, and fuel would always cost a bomb (especially now that the military had commandeered it all).

The military were everywhere now, as were the police.  It was to be expected, Jeremy supposed, but it was still disconcerting to watch olive green, 3-tonne trucks patrolling every main road.  With the UK’s history of riots, the Government were taking no chances.  There was even a sentry posted at the news station’s car park, controlling the bright-red automatic barrier instead of the usual civilians that had done so before.

Jeremy pulled the car into gear and drove towards the barrier.  The armed soldier there stepped up beside the car as it approached.  Jeremy lowered the electric window and leant out with his security ID.  It wasn’t his usual station ID, but a new state-issued ID that allowed him to leave his home and travel to work.  They called it a Vital Services Identity Card – pronounced V-SIC.  It was a privilege to have one in many ways, but a burden too.  Being outside was a constant danger for many reasons (number one being exposure to the peeling).  Still, if Jeremy was going to come down with the sickness, he surely would have had it by now.

“Everything okay in there?” the soldier asked him, motioning to the building with his head.

“There was a bit of trouble earlier.  People are getting scared.  Might be a good idea to post a man inside.”

“No can do,” said the soldier.  “Orders are to remain outside at all times unless absolutely necessary.”

Jeremy understood and nodded.  “Can’t have people thinking that the military are controlling the press.”  Even though they are, thought Jeremy.

The soldier gave no reaction, his expression implacable.  “Drive safely, sir.  Go straight home.”

Jeremy nodded and moved the car slowly forward as the metal barrier rose in front of him.  Once past it, he pulled into third-gear and increased his speed.  It was easy to drive fast, because the roads were empty.  Travel was restricted to prevent the spread of infection and only certain vehicles were allowed on the road at all.  Jeremy’s Ford Focus qualified and had a luminous green circle on both the front and back.  It told any passing military that he was allowed to use the roads, and for the most part they left him alone.  In fact, a convoy of trucks were heading toward him right now and seemed unconcerned by his presence on the highway.  The driver of the lead truck nodded to him as they passed and it was only a few moments before he was the only car on the road again, driving along the withered husk of the nation’s once-heaving infrastructure.  He lived almost forty-miles away from the news station, but with the roads wide open, he would get there in thirty minutes.

He turned on the radio, but quickly switched to CD mode.  The last thing he wanted was more news – or uninformed hypotheses masquerading as news.  The sound of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper came on from a mix-disc he’d filled full of rock songs.  It seemed pretty apt for the mood he was in and he let it play to its conclusion.

 

Part Two of The Peeling, Jeremy’s Choice coming soon…

No Comments

Post A Comment