1. Awakening

 

“...that is why YellyD22 ranks among the most dangerous diseases we have ever encountered. Ultimately it could mean, and I'm not being overly pessimistic, the end of the human species on Earth. It seems that God has a sense of irony when one remembers that the greatest global issue several years ago was overpopulation. "

“Doctor, what do you perceive as the biggest risk of the Yellow Death?”

“The deceitfulness of this virus is mainly in its symptoms, because a normal man usually notices that he is infected only when it's too late. In the first stage of the disease, there are symptoms such as frequent urination, accentuation of veins due to the weakening of the skin, or increased appetite. The first stage lasts no more than forty-eight hours, which is exactly why most of the people afflicted by this disease fail to act. The second stage brings the typical yellowing of the skin, fever, headache, and muscle pain, but also euphoria, or other mood disorders. This can take up to a month. And finally, the patient becomes affected by hyperactivity, increased heart rhythm, aggressiveness, and also the loss of moral scruples, or conscience. Six months later, death comes. But it is precisely in this last stage that the disease is most contagious. "

“Thank you, doctor. Now, I would like to ask you about the vaccine.”

“Sure. Even though, except for some exceptions, Yelly does not attack children or elderly people, which reduces the amount needed, producing the vaccine is so expensive that not everyone can afford it, regardless of the waiting list. And even those who get it are not out of danger. Although there has been substantial progress achieved in the Yellow Houses, we are still behind the disease, which is able to adapt incredibly quickly. To put it as clearly as possible, the vaccine will give you about a one third chance that you will be immune... "

 

I was sitting in my favourite armchair (the only comfortable one in the entire apartment), watching the news, but in fact I was not paying any attention to it. My thoughts were dancing in my head without any order, and I wasn’t even trying to catch them. Except for the light from the screen, the room was dark, a clear sign of the ongoing creative block.

“Smoke, or you’ll make me turn yellow,” I heard a voice say behind my ear. I was so startled that I winced.

I had completely forgotten that he was still there. Ota Lešek, my intrusive neighbour. And perhaps also a friend. He, his mother, and I were the only tenants on the floor, so it was impossible to avoid him, and I had never had the strength to tell him to leave. Ota didn’t want to spend time with his mother, so he often stayed at my place, and I had somehow gotten accustomed to it. Perhaps I would prefer to be alone, but it also had its advantages. My girlfriend rejected him, so I didn’t have to spend so much time with her.

I handed a joint to Ota, who impatiently wedged it between his lips and puckered his chubby cheeks.

 

“...the world outside is cruel and merciless. Have you encountered what you feared the most? Do you think that nothing makes sense anymore? Don’t give up! You met your happiness in unhappiness! In the Yellow Houses you will find a new life! Trained personnel will fulfil all your wishes. Luxurious rooms, bars, cinemas, swimming pools and wellness centres will take care of your entertainment. And all of it for free! Don’t lose hope...  Try Yellow House – and perhaps you will be the one thanks to whom we will find the cure!”

“After the commercial break, we’re back with Valdemar Janský, a semi-professional astrophysicist, who was first to discover Janský lines, as he named them.  Valdemar, can you tell us a bit more about these beams, which are subject of much discussion?”

“Sure Mark, I’ll be glad to. As all of you surely know, or as many of you have seen yourselves, there are narrow beams seen in the sky from time to time, somewhat resembling lasers. Actually it’s not correct to say ‘in the sky’ for according to my observations, these beams always start and end their paths on the Earth. They are hard to spot, because they appear in various places all over the world, lasting just a fraction of a second.”

“And what do you say to the official statement issued by Chinese scientists, who also observed these beams with their giant FAST radio telescope, and which the scientists from the international European Southern Observatory (ESO) go along with? To quote them – they say the events causing electrical discharges between the ionosphere and lithosphere are increasing due to the increasingly drier surface of our planet. They say it is natural that, due to the loss of water, more storm clouds are formed, and the emergence of these phenomena is actually caused by unstable and changing weather.”

“You are well prepared. Thank you for your question. I have no direct evidence for it, but I believe that this theory is, I dare to say, incorrect. These beams can’t be of natural origin, simply because of their structure. Have you ever seen a perfectly straight bolt of lightning?”

“So you contend these beams are of artificial origin?”

“That’s right, Mark, I do.”

 

The door opened and a slim blond girl entered. She held a shiny computer in her right hand, and two plastic bags with a round logo in the left one.

“Teo?” she shouted as if I was not sitting right in front of her, “I have a big surprise for you. You’ll be amazed!” She switched the light on, setting the bags aside and taking off her light coat made of some dead animal. She hung it over the easel. I had told her at least a hundred times not to do that.

A memory of our first meeting flickered through my mind. She had come as a potential customer to take a look at the paintings. She stepped into the doorway and stopped at the threshold.  She had bewitching eyes, accented by black lines, narrowed into crevices. She looked over the paintings without any interest, and her gaze bore into me. She was so beautiful that she took my breath away.

I am sure the beauty of a woman changes as you get to know her personality.

That is why she was taking my breath away now, but also for a completely different reason.

“Ugh, what a smell "she said, and it looked as if she only now noticed the neighbour.

“Hi Tayra,” he uttered dreamily. Even the blind would notice that he loves her.

“Hi. Could you give us a moment?” She wore a tight-fitting shirt ending above her belly button and tight leather pants.

“Sure, Tayra. But…" “ He looked at me hesitantly, “Mum mustn’t see me like this.” He quickly dropped the joint butt onto the plate overflowing with cigarette butts.

“Will you just get out?” she said impatiently. She despised Ota, but she usually enjoyed playing with him. Not today. I didn’t feel good about it. Something told me I wasn’t going to like the surprise.

When he‘d left, she sat on my lap, placing her hands behind my neck. “Tomorrow we're going to get vaccinated! I got us the vaccines!" she cried out, unable to contain her excitement. "What do you say? How much do you love me?"

My feelings showed. . "Vaccines?" I stammered incredulously. "Isn't it a bit useless for me? I meet no one; who would I catch it from? And where did you get money for it? Have you sold your flat ... and the flats of your friends?"

She jumped up from my lap, as if I already had the disease.

"You ungrateful bastard ..." she began, her eyes blazing.

"Wait, Jana," I raised my voice and raised my arms in a defensive gesture. "Do not be hyster ..."

"Don’t call me Jana!" she sputtered, "My stage name is Tayra."

"Your stage name sounds like a pseudonym of a hooker."

I shouldn’t have said that.

"Do you envy my success?" She began to pace the room; it was a wonder she didn't bump against anything. "It's just your own fault you're in here, jerking your dick with Ota, instead of finishing some painting so you can stand on your own two feet. And when a buyer comes to you and he is interested, you reject him. Such money he offered! "

“You know I will not sell the Colorik”, I muttered sadly.

"Because you're a wimp. My friends have successful, creative artists with class for partners, but mine has to be such a ... „She could not find the right word, and in her anger, she went to kick one of the paintings leaning against the wall. Fortunately, she realized what she was doing in time and she turned her pump with a fashion buckle to the wooden box standing nearby. "I bought the food right under your nose, I take care of your health, and this is how you repay me." She began to whimper for a change. "Just so you know, I have friends in this field, and I got this vaccination for free."

Sure, certainly from that solarium-tanned nob, Richard. I guessed - no, I knew that she had paid for it more than enough. Just not the money.

"I didn't mean it like that, I'm sorry..." I took the path of least resistance.

 

After a moment, it was as if nothing had happened. The problem was solved and we started to enjoy the boxes of Chinese food. I was poking at the meal while my girlfriend already embarked on the second course. She really liked food, and it had begun to show on her. Then ‘all of a sudden’ she lost weight and she’s stayed slim, regardless of what she eats. She didn’t think I suspected anything, but I wasn’t stupid. Once I looked at her medical records and found that in she lets a modified type of tapeworm grow in her guts. It’s fashionable these days. That was one of the reasons why our sex life hadn’t been up to much. Every time I approached her, I couldn’t help but imagine the snake in her belly.

But I could not hold it against her; nor against Richard.

 

“...last battles subside, and so it seems that the War of Water will be over soon. This time, perhaps permanently. Russia, owning the very effective ice melting device, and China, which also solved the problem of water shortage, have agreed to share their technologies. It will not be for free, of course, but...”

 

“How can you keep listening to that? It’s so depressing. There’s a new autumn collection on the Fashion Channel, could you switch over to that?” she asked between her bites. I obeyed.

 

 

2. Shut up, keep up, and hold the shopping bags

 

Jana did not spend the night there with me, but she picked me up the next day and we went to the new, modern buildings of the Zemiva pharmaceutical company.

I rolled my polo neck sweater up to my neck. It was a cloudy, drizzly day. The few sunbeams which the clouds allowed to pass through reflected from the Glass Bridge down onto the dirty river. The wind was bustling fast-food trash down the street (given that the majority of real, natural foods were rationed or otherwise restricted, the question was, what was the source of the cheap meat?) and except for a few people on the street, it was empty. It wasn’t an extraordinary sight. The Yella disease flourished best in these urban areas. It expanded outside the cities just occasionally. Most people were escaping to the countryside or were dying. Yet it wasn’t so bad for the Central Europeans; the disease and the living standards were much worse in other countries.

We rode the tram; three of the five stops were around the Yellow House complex. In fact, it wasn’t yellow; it was just illuminated that way. I was looking at the sharply angular, modern building, and I smiled ruefully. Even though the ads made it sound good, there was still a three meter tall fence around the place.

Despite the fact that there was only one man in the waiting room and that we had an appointment, we had to wait for about an hour. When it was our turn, the various tests they did took about the same time, until the man in the white coat finally injected an awful lot of transparent liquid into our veins. We got several leaflets, and phone, email, and Facebook contact details, and then we were released. Just before that, our doctor casually announced that we would have to visit a specialist every day, who would observe whether the body responds correctly. Or something like that.

I didn’t believe that the vaccine would work. To me it was just a way for someone to fill his pockets even in these sad times. “Listen, Teo, do you realize it took me a lot of effort to arrange the vaccine for you? “ Jana said innocently, as I was helping her up the steps onto the tram

“Yeah, it must have cost you a lot of sweat.”

“What do you mean by that?” she frowned.

“What do you want, Tayra? “ I sighed resignedly.

We sat next to each other. There were, unusually, a lot of people in the tram, about ten. They made me nervous. "You know, I thought that you could buy something nice for me in return”. I saw an absolutely amazing mink fur yesterday, and I immediately knew I just had to have it ..." Jana said.

"Well, when I sell something, I'll buy it for you," I quickly interrupted her and I tried to look out of the window. "Seriously? You're the best! And you're also lucky because I got a buyer for the Colorik. "

"No, no way."

"Wait, don't get upset. He said he is willing to offer a generous amount. He was a great collector of your grandfather’s work. He'll just take a look and he'll tell you the amount. If you don't agree, you don't have to sell it. "

"For sure? Haven't you promised him anything?"

"I swear."

"OK", I said after a moment of feigned thinking. I wasn't going to sell the painting in any case.

"Great. He is coming to see you on Wednesday, so do a little cleaning. "

Suddenly, a scream came from the front part of the tram, which escalated to a roar of several people. Jana immediately stood up in the aisle, and I also rose to see better. An elderly woman with a look of horror on her face was rushing toward us. "Yellow Death! He has Yellow Death“, she screamed. She was running down the aisle, and bumped into Jana so violently that they both fell on the ground. I was so stunned that I just stood there and didn’t even help her to her feet. Panic grew in the tram, and more and more people were trying to get to the opposite end.

Up in the front part, only one man remained. His once-elegant suit was crumpled, dirty. His white shirt was bloody, and the tie around his neck was loosened, resembling a medieval noose. He wore a baseball cap. His face was sickly yellowish, as if he had hepatitis or some other liver disease.

People were trying to squeeze closer to the door, so they could escape as soon as possible when the tram stopped. Drivers were already thing of the past, so even when someone pressed the emergency button, they had to wait till the main system evaluated the situation and stopped the tram. It should have taken five seconds, but something was obviously wrong.

The yellowed man bared his white teeth and headed toward us. He was chuckling and repeating "Boo boo boo boo!" I was just standing there, and instead of screaming with the others and scrambling to the door, or helping Jana out from under the pile of bodies, I was staring at the man in fascination.

The whole time I had known about the disease, I heard about it all the time, but I had somehow persuaded myself that it didn’t concern me, just as people do with death. It wasn't until now that confronting the infected man opened my eyes.

The tram abruptly stopped and the doors opened. Before the man could approach us, we all fled outside.

Jana was not injured, but she was shocked. "I have never seen them with my own eyes," she said, clearly shaken by it. "It's terrible." After a moment, she looked at her crumpled and muddy outfit and started to cry.

I was also in a state of shock. It was an experience comparable to one that happened to me when I was a kid. That's when I first saw a corpse. Across the street, they were building a new apartment building and the strong winds loosened a poorly-secured strut. A nearly two-ton construction 3D printer fell on a woman passing below on the sidewalk. There wasn't much left of her; it was a horrific sight.

Now for the first time I saw a living corpse, and it struck me almost as much as that event twenty years ago had struck me as a little boy.

I took Jana to my home. The horror we experienced together had brought us closer to each other, and we lived through a peaceful rest of the day together, and on the contrary a frantic and beautiful night.

 

Five days later, we were sitting in front of the TV screen with Tayra and Ota, playing a popular lifelong online logical game, and stuffing ourselves with chicken (hopefully) wings. There was a good mood in the room, with everyone laughing, smoking, and enjoying themselves. Jana was happy that she got that mink coat, Ota was happy to be sitting next to Jana, and that I had unexpectedly returned all the money I’d borrowed from him. I’d finally sold my painting. But it was not because of Jana. It was because of the yellow men in the (or a... a....) tram, who had made me realize that I won’t be here forever, and that I want to leave something behind. The sales contract also contained a condition that the Colorik would be displayed in a place where the public can see it. Sure, the empty space in the corner always made me a bit sad, but despite that, even I was happy in the end.

"I'll probably burst ... but I’d still have something else." I licked my fingers and threw the bone into the ashtray.

"My stomach says the same” Jana said, and reached for the bucket to see if there was anything left. Then her sleeve rolled up, revealing a wrist covered by a network of protruding veins, like the ones Ota's mother had. On young skin, treated by body lotions, it looked unnatural. She noticed it, and with her eyes widened she pulled her sweater sleeve all the way up to the elbow, and she did the same on the other arm. It was everywhere.

The good mood vanished instantly, and an oppressive silence settled around us. Ota was the first to respond. He jumped up, put his hands in front of him and began to back up rapidly, kicking (OR tripping over) the paintings and empty beer bottles over the floor. "Oh, no ... I'm sorry ... I have to ..." he muttered one word over another and then he ran out the door, without closing it behind him.

Jana kept staring at her arms with more and more disgust. Then she turned to me and said, "I'm going to die, Teo." It was just a factual statement, nothing more.

It scared me even more than the veins on her arms. I wanted to sit closer to her, but she moved away. I tried to hug her, but she pushed me away violently. She started to have a hysterical outburst. This was the first time it was not directed against me. But as often happens with violent emotional reactions, even that could change.

I didn’t know where it came from, but I just slapped her, so hard that she fell to the floor.

Surprisingly, it calmed her down. She stared up at me with a mixture of distrust, humiliation, and perhaps even respect.

"We're going to see that specialist", I said.

End of specimen. You can download full book at sekerkatomas.cz