Apr 22, 2019
We were on week three of the quarantine when the man arrived. Ioni noticed him first and ran excitedly into the living room where mother was removing the last of papa’s teeth.
“Hold still,” she hollered as she twisted and yanked inside his
mouth. She held the pliers in one hand and a bloody kitchen towel
in the other.
Ioni yelled excitedly but she was hard to understand. Her teeth were removed a week ago and she still had trouble speaking clearly. The rest of us had already learned how to use our tongues in a way to make speech comprehensible.
Mother stopped what she was doing, mid yank, when she finally understood what Ioni was saying. I was in the corner sharpening the knives and stopped suddenly, feeling a sudden tightening in my chest. Mother’s panic was contagious.
“Get in the basement. NOW!”
I jumped up and grabbed Ioni and hollered for the others as we
headed for the cellar. We practiced this drill countless times
since the quarantine began. Sometimes mother and papa woke us up in
the middle of the night, startling us with shouts and loud noises,
so that we were automatically programmed to run to safety.
Huddled on the old couch in the basement we listened to the voices above us. We heard mother and papa and then a stranger, the man, talking in words that were unintelligible. But we understood the tones —- harsh, guttural, pleading. Silence.
Then the man’s voice became louder. We understood that he was now inside the house. I looked over at my brothers and sisters, wide eyed. We had not seen another person outside of the family for months, even before the quarantine. Our farm, miles away from the nearest neighbors, afforded us unique protection. We were prepared with food and supplies, and our generator kept our batteries charged. We knew about the virus, the chaos, the danger of others.
We also knew about the danger of ourselves. Once the virus infected the central nervous system, it destroyed the prefrontal cortex of the brain. No more rational thought, no more mind controlling the brain. The brain operated solely via the amygdala, which became a hot locus of rage under the virus’ command. Rabies was the old name, a lyssavirus that was transmitted from the saliva of animals, now mutated to spread between humans. This mutation appeared out of nowhere, and with the rampant destruction of civilized society, its origin was impossible to determine. Those with the infection were attacking others, in a blind rage, spreading the virus through bites. Death was rapid, hastened by injuries, and inevitable due to hydrophobia, a virally mediated fear of water.
I silently crept to the base of the stairs, straining to hear anything from above. Silence. I slowly climbed the steps despite the wild gesturing of my siblings. No one made a sound but their terror was palpable. I continued to the door and pressed my ear against it.
I pushed the door open a crack and peered through. I could see mother’s body on the floor, blood pooling around head. Despite my fear I pressed on, needing to know what lay around the corner. I pressed my back tightly against the wall and continued to edge further from the basement door.
I saw him then, crouched in the corner of the living room, examining the knives I had been sharpening just minutes before. He turned to look at me, wild, disheveled, a layer of grime coating his face. His eyes were black, but his teeth. His teeth were a grotesque, dazzling white.
Finalist #2 The Monolith by Ross T Byers
Aside from the event that changed the world forever, May 11th was a typical Tuesday. People got up and had breakfast. They sent each other emails and commuted to their jobs. They talked, and fought, ate and made love. They laughed and cried, were born and died. Just like any Tuesday.
Some, living in the parts of the world where the sun rose first, had already said goodnight to Tuesday by the time the blackout came. They’d set their alarms for Wednesday, and blindly fallen asleep, confident that the next day would be pretty much the same. Only, it wasn’t.
The blackout came at 5.15pm GMT. It lasted exactly 7.4 seconds. 7.4 seconds in which everyone, the whole world, went to sleep. When they awoke, in their new reality, every person’s soul, was visible.
For most, to experience even a seven second blackout, was terrifying. There were of course circumstances where those seven seconds made a big difference. There were hundreds of thousands of accidents globally. Some people died as a result of the blackout. For those who remained, it took a while to realise that it wasn’t just you. Everyone had felt it. One minute you were going about your day, then suddenly, it was like someone had hit the pause button. When you came to, you knew time had passed. Only a tiny sliver, but, you knew. Then of course, there were the nodes.
By 5.16pm GMT on Tuesday 11th May, every human being on the planet had grown a node. It sat between the eyebrows, around the size of an aubergine and looked as if it were made of delicately blown glass. Inside, a thick white liquid swirled and eddied. Within days doctors had proclaimed to the world’s frantic media, that the nodes were connected via tissue and nerves to the human brain at a point between the eyebrows, where some cultures believed the so called ‘third eye’ was located.
How the entire globe had suddenly sprouted a new, visible, organ in the centre of their foreheads was a matter of much discussion. Some said it was a form of evolutionary process that we were unaware of. Others, a spontaneous mutation brought about by some massive cosmic event. The consensus only really formed when the nodes started to change.
For the first week or so, everyone’s node was the same. Early in the second week however, some people’s nodes started to alter. The effect was like seeing a droplet of indian ink fall into a bowl of milk. A small black spot would appear and slowly begin to bleed out, leaking into the pearlescent whiteness of the liquid. Then, more black spots would appear, like cavities in a tooth, spreading with a sense of creeping decay.
It was in the third week that people began to agree on what the nodes were. Somehow and in some way, the transparent bulb in the centre of each person’s forehead, was the physical, visible, content of their soul. It was noted that children had bright white nodes that would remain virtually unblemished ‘till adolescence. Newborns, still innocent, had nodes so white they almost seemed to glow. In prisons across the globe, violent offenders attempted to shield the fact that their nodes were blackened, like something burnt. Experiments were done to track the effects. Evil deeds made it blacken, selfless deeds made it whiten, though some stains were hard to remove.
Who the arbiter of the nodes was, remained a mystery. As did their origin and purpose. What was no longer a mystery however, was a person’s character. Highly respected individuals were revealed to be venomously wicked people with soot black souls, their protestations of innocence falling upon deaf ears. Some politicians had their nodes tattooed to conceal their blemished souls. Secretive wrongdoers suffered. Their evil exposed. Their souls, like rorschach tests, splattered and stained by their deeds.
The first year of visible souls was beautiful. There was peace, harmony, a species of love. Knowing that their every action was visible and held a consequence made people behave differently. They became gentle, considerate, more thoughtful toward each other. The world was almost, for a moment, loving. It was not, however, truthful or free and the cracks began to show.
It was early in the second year that dissenting voices were heard. They talked about freedom, human nature, survival of the fittest. They said that whiter than white, was unachievable, unnatural. They said that a life being ‘good’ for fear of punishment was a life wearing chains of your own making. They said the human soul was meant to have dark spots, that evil didn’t exist, but that violence was natural. Violence drove survival, our evolution.
Within weeks the phrase ‘Free Will’ was plastered on every surface. Overpopulation was still a problem that needed to be fixed. As pressure increased, thoughts of now and of me, became more important. People became less forgiving, less tolerant, less pathetic. Soon enough, the colour of the soul, helped the strong pick out the weak.
Something snapped and a necessary change occurred. The whitest souls were labelled as freaks, burdens and parasites. First they were rounded up, then many were eliminated. In the fight for resources, being kind doesn’t help. The stained were the strong, they said. The unblemished were the weak. Only the stained are really free they said, only the stained are truly human.
Noone wants to be unblemished now. Sin is survival. You learn to be a predator or end up as the prey.
Last year we crowned a leader. His node is black as ebony and this, they say, is right. Now the stained rule, the unblemished live as slaves. I can’t help but wonder, if whoever gave us souls, would despair to see what we have all become, or if, instead, they’d rejoice at what they’d helped us to achieve. The true realisation, of who we were really are.