A Novel of the Pandemic
Months after a bio-terror attack has decimated the world, Rand Gardner travels among its survivors, chronicling their lives with a newsletter he copies by hand and posts along roadsides and bridges. But although he thinks of himself as exceptional only because of his "ability not to get sick," Rand does more than simply survive. He travels along the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, calling on the homesteads of other survivors and pulling together some semblance of community.
If nothing else, we all pay close attention to each other’s moods now. At night, we all look out our windows into perfect black, and we all know how it feels to contemplate the 10 miles separating us from the next person as if they were infinite space. Aside from ourselves, Alex and I don’t know of any people who have settled close to one another, or created villages along the rivers or old highways, or re-inhabited any of the places where living would be more convenient, if not less lonely. I suppose that’s because of the way things happened, of the way people got sick, no matter what medicines they took or where they hid.
Supposedly the virus had a short life cycle. No one had dealt with anything quite like it before, so we all learned together week by week, epidemiologists and administrators, emergency room doctors and plain old people like me. Just before CNN went off the air, one of its reporters interviewed the director of the Centers for Disease Control. He had no doubt a cure could be found. “The problem,” he said, “is we won’t have enough time.”
By that point, we were about a month into it. People had stopped going to work, the airlines had stopped flying and the reporter on television was someone I’d never seen before. She asked, “Aren’t you afraid a statement like that will cause panic?” In response, the director shrugged. “I don’t think anyone who’s watching is surprised to hear it,” he said. “At this point, we all know nature is going to take its course.” The reporter wondered where that course would lead and the director shrugged again. “Ultimately, I don’t know,” he told her. “It might be over already, but we might have another round or two to go. The truth is we could only do what everyone else is doing: wait and hope.”
“And pray,” interjected the reporter. Sometimes I wonder if they taught that kind of crap in broadcast journalism school.
“Pray if you want,” said the director. “Me, I’ll just hope.”