Short story : Norovirus

The man had coughed almost wetly, a short gurgling cough, next to me in the carriage.  At the time I thought he might have that virus that was surprisingly widespread. Norovirus. I never remembered the spelling and had to look it up.  The day before the girl asleep in front of me, head on table, flat out in an odd way as everyone was leaving the train, had said on waking that she probably had the Norovirus.  I tried to be helpful by waking her, but I knew if she was right about the virus, then she was wrong to be going to work, which I let her know.  "It's ok, it's only one day in town this week" she said.  Afterwards I realised she shouldn't even be on the train. She should be home in bed, trying to get better.  But then, many people had tried that and look what happened. In the end it didn't help.  It spread too quickly.

"Norovirus is one of the most infectious diseases of man" Goodfellow, professor of virology at Cambridge had said. Things are relative, even bad things.  So how much?  "It takes fewer than 20 virus particles to infect someone.  So each droplet of vomit or faeces from an infected person can contain enough virus to infect more than 100,000 people". Gulp. Still as I read this it is shocking.  Almost everyone is gone, but no one saw this coming.  Even bird flu had more warnings.  The sheer speed of its spread had been shocking in the real sense of the word.  People were not reacting.  Some stayed home, in their beds, vomiting furiously into their toilets, but from the outside all seemed quiet.  At work, it was noisy, an odd rhythm of coughs and splutters that seemed to group together as though the people were even more effected when they heard those around them.  It was the first time anyone could remember people actually stayed home to avoid sick people at work.  It had never happened before on a large scale.  That should have been a clue.

When the end came, or at least when I realised there was no future, it was quiet.  The coughing had stopped.  But then they'd all stopped breathing.  The hospitals were long closed, shut full of the dead who could not be moved there were so many of them.  Everyone retreated away from everyone else.  People fled in cars, on foot, on bikes but mostly on foot.  Public transport had died, long before the majority.  It hadn't been real at first.  The news and alerts had sounded almost familar, like a film we were about to see. A disaster movie that was building itself.  It was when I heard a friend had died of the virus that it hit home for real.  Until then it happening to me, my wife, my family, my friends wasn't an option. It didn't compute.  The government was prepared. They had solutions. This virus was treatable. It would go away. Something would stop it.  It would peter out.  But then, people started dying, transport started failing, services stopped working. Society crumbled.  I was never a fan of science fiction books (although SF films intrigued me) but I'm sure they would predict that anything from the current world that was automated would last far longer in the final reckoning than anything that relied on human intervention.  And so it was.  The internet is still up, at least my end of it.  I write this in the hope I can post it to my blog, somewhere in the ether, on servers in the cloud so that others can read it. If not now, in the future. We can write our own epitaphs now. Perhaps even without the sadness that has plagued those few survivors you see who hide and run away from you.

I don't know what the future holds any more. Was I lucky enough to be part of the cleansed planet? Or simply by bad luck around to experience the worst that had ever happened to us. They managed to tell us where the surviving power was, where the food was, but we all know that sooner or later it is all going to run out. I realise we had learnt how to move forward, but how to live going backwards. I'm a sort of farmer now, my wife a farmer's wife.  We try to grow things, but in reality we're just harvesting, taking what is already grown.  And we have a lot of space around us.  I think we all have.  No one yet is moving and meeting up in significant numbers.  I haven't seen anyone since June.  It's just too risky.  The last advice, was it even authoritative?, was to sweat it out. That the Norovirus would die out.  Then it would be safe to gather together.  But they said that before, in the lull before the wave of deaths washed over us.

So we move further backward, losing our technology, using our hands, reading our books.  The days are getting lighter now and we can do more.  We sit in simplicitly, choosing our books.  Void of ambition as we knew it.  We wait out our days, hoping they are peaceful ones.  I enjoy turning the pages.