2030, a summer night in Toronto
Mr. and Mrs. Gould looked up at the stars as they were walking on a walkway towards the 48th Highlanders Regimental Memorial at Queen’s Park. A soft breeze caressed the leaves on the trees and their faces.
“What a beautiful night,” she said, then took in a deep breath of the fresh air. “And to go outside and enjoy the air without having to wear a mask.” She said this with a bittersweet attitude: happy for herself, but not so much for most other people.
“Yes, it’s a lovely night,” he said, then he took in a deep breath, too. “Especially with it so quiet, with nobody else around.”
“Thanks to the latest lockdown.”
“Yes.” He smirked as he looked at her.
“It really isn’t fair, you know. Everyone else stuck inside their homes like prisoners, except for ‘essential people,’ and even they are usually out only to work or to buy what they need.”
“They aren’t of the same quality as we are, Hannah.”
“I don’t care about people’s ‘quality,’ Derek,” she said with a frown. “They have to wear those uncomfortable masks, just to go outside, and we don’t have to? They’re fined if they don’t comply? They can’t find work if they don’t get vaccinated?”
“Peter Cobb-Hopkin’s lucky,” he said. “He refuses to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or obey the lockdown, and his dad squares it with the police.”
“That’s because his dad is your boss, Derek. And the head of the Toronto government.”
“Because he’s of our quality, Hannah.”
She sighed. “Those not of ‘our quality’ have to be given shots of that vaccine your company makes, while we’re given their money, and we don’t have to take the needle in our arms? It isn’t right.”
“None of the world’s armies or cops need to take the vaccines, either.”
“That’s because those…automatons…have already had the disobedience beaten out of them. We get richer, and everybody else gets poorer.”
“You enjoy the benefits of getting that money as much as I do. Why are you complaining?”
“I just feel…bad for them. You know the side effects of the vaccine: the way it makes people more passive and lethargic. It’s as if something else has been secretly put into the vaccines, something unrelated to preventing getting viruses. Something added just to keep people under control. And everybody knows it doesn’t guarantee full protection against viruses, or prevent transmission of them. Sometimes I think it’s designed deliberately to keep the people under our control.”
“Now you sound like one of those conspiracy theorists. And why do you care? I say if it’s true that they’re designed on purpose to make the poor passive, that’s a good thing. We don’t have to worry about them rising up against us. That’s for your benefit, too. How could you be against that? Enough of this silly talk. Let’s just enjoy the walk, OK?”
“OK,” she said with a sigh.
He looked up at the night sky again. “Wow,” he said. “Look at those beautiful stars.”
She looked up. “Oh, yes,” she said, her eyes and mouth widening. “They’re really glowing.”
“Yeah, especially that cluster just to the left of the moon.”
“Shooting stars? They seem to be coming here.”
“Yeah, they seem to be racing at us.”
She frowned. “I…don’t like this.”
“They…aren’t getting any bigger…as they get…nearer,” he said with a frown of his own. “I don’t think I like this, either.”
“Those aren’t stars, Derek,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I feel…like I can’t.”
A cluster of about a dozen dots of glowing white light flew right at him, staying at about the size of the smallest of pebbles. They seemed to go right through him…but they didn’t.
She shrieked on seeing the impact.
He fell to the ground, shaking as he lay there on his right side in the fetal position. His instincts were screaming all through his body to get those things out of his body, to eject them. He felt them clinging to him, though, not letting go. Still, the urgency to get them out prevailed.
The struggle between ejecting them and their clinging to him could be resolved in only one way: splitting. He felt his skin and innards stretching and pulling, causing a sharp pain all over, and bruises on his skin. He grunted and groaned at the pain, then he felt something inside him begin to tear him apart, the stretches and pulls causing bulges that were ripping through his pants and shirt and exposing the bruised skin of his legs and chest.
She saw fiery red lines all over his skin, like cracks in wall paint. His grunts and groans changed to screams as those red cracks thickened. He felt his bones on the point of cracking, of being dislocated. The sharp pains all over were excruciating.
“What’s happening to you?!”
Even if he’d had control over his body and speech, he couldn’t have answered that question himself. All he knew was that something intolerable was inside him; he felt it was making demands on him that he couldn’t accept. It felt like a foreign substance that urgently had to be ejected from his body. It felt like a poison. He had to get it out…but it kept clinging to every inch of him.
His body was beginning to rip apart at those red cracks; the rips would widen, showing off internal organs: his ribcage broke open, and she saw his heart, his stomach, and the muscle and sinew in his legs. Then the tears would narrow, as if he was struggling to heal himself. They widened and narrowed, back and forth, a continuous struggle.
He had to get it out of his body…but it wouldn’t leave without first taking pieces of him with it.
“Help!” she screamed. Why am I not seeing any blood? she wondered. And why am I even screaming? There isn’t anybody out here to hear me.
Next, his heart opened, exposing the chambers; his stomach and intestines opened, too, showing the insides. Still, no blood poured out. Finally, all those cracks ripped right open. His body blew up into pieces, flew out of his clothes and all over the place.
Her next scream was ear-piercingly shrill. The pieces of his body, what looked like about twenty of them, lay fidgeting on the ground, rocking from side to side, as if each had its own consciousness. More severed internal organs were showing, not just the heart, stomach, intestines, muscle, and sinew, but also the lungs and brain; and yet still, the blood and internal fluids were somehow kept from flowing out.
The fragmented pieces were still trying to get the foreign presence out of them…and still couldn’t.
The openings in those internal organs, where the severing had been done, were now moving like mouths. Grunting noises came out of them, what sounded like an unintelligible, inarticulate language. Eyes agape, she grimaced at the surreal sight.
After a minute or so of these movements, the pieces dulled in colour and lay still. Finally, the blood and internal liquids began to pour out, in ever-widening lakes. Her high heels dodged the flow of red.
She was too distracted by the blood to notice what happened next. The dots of white light came out of the lifeless pieces of what had been her husband and flew at her.
She looked up at the glow. “Oh, God…NO!“
She felt their warmth as soon as they entered her.
Now they were vibrating inside her. She was shaking more than he had been. She twitched about spastically, as if that would help her get them out of her.
Then she stopped moving.
Somehow, their presence wasn’t so intolerable for her as it had been for him.
She still felt their warm glow inside herself.
But there was no pain.
Actually, they seemed to feel okay inside her.
She stood there, frozen still. Only her pounding heart was moving.
Her panting was the only sound.
Just the inner warmth.
Her eyes darted around in all directions, as if something out there would tell her what was going on inside her body. Though she didn’t quite know yet, she was starting to agree with it.
Finally, her heartbeat slowed down, her breathing grew softer, and she walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. She’d waded in the puddle of blood, not caring about the red she got on her shoes.
She sat there for several minutes, just staring straight ahead, as if in a trance.
She’d never been so calm.
Yes, she actually liked it.
She took out her cellphone and dialled 9-1-1. “Hello?” she said in a soft, monotone voice. “I’d like to report an accident.”
Peter Cobb-Hopkin, 22, was on the other side of town in the early afternoon of the next day, in a Starbucks, reading an online newspaper article on his phone about the incident in the park the night before. Sitting on the other side of his small table was his girlfriend, 21-year-old Michelle Buchanan,. She was wearing a mask, pulling it down occasionally and brushing aside her long, wavy brown hair whenever she took a sip from her coffee. He wasn’t wearing one. Only two other people were in the Starbucks, masked and buying coffees to take home immediately, out of compliance with the lockdown.
He looked up from the article for a moment, and got the evil eye from the two mask-wearing customers who were annoyed at his non-compliance; he scowled back at them, his beady, dark brown eyes burning hate at them. He’d grown so used to this treatment over the years, of never wearing a mask, that he expected it now. He may have not seen frowns on their faces, but he could feel their hostility; it was as if he could see through their masks and see the frowns. He was ready to flip them off if they kept it up. He looked back at the article, then ran his fingers through his short, dark brown hair.
“Oh, look at this bullshit that your parents’ newspaper is publishing!” he said, showing her the article on his phone. “Apparently, there’s a new disease for us to be worried about. ‘Something the likes of which has never been seen before’.”
“What’s that?” she asked, her hand darting out of the way of a droplet from his mouth. “And watch your spitting.” She took a quick look at the title of the article and shrugged, then he brought his phone back to himself.
“They’re calling it, check this out, ‘The Splits’,” he said with a chuckle. “When you catch it, you may show no symptoms, but still be a carrier. Haven’t we heard that old line before.”
“And if you do show symptoms?” she asked.
“Oh, here’s where it gets interesting,” he said, snorting and chuckling. “Your body tears itself to pieces. Splits apart.”
“What?” Her eyes widened.
“According to the article, Derek Gould, the CFO of my parents’ company–which, as we know, has governed this municipality for the past four years–was taking a walk with his wife, Hannah, in Queen’s Park last night…because ruling class privilege means they don’t have to comply with the lockdown.”
“Like you and me, who have the same privilege, through our families.”
“Yes, of course, I wasn’t denying that,” he said. “Anyway, Derek Gould suddenly became infected with something, he fell on the sidewalk, shaking and screaming in pain, then his body cracked open into many pieces…with no blood spraying anywhere, oddly…and then he died.”
“Wow.” Michelle said, then pulled her mask down to sip her coffee. “What else does it say?”
“The infection spread to her, but she hasn’t shown any symptoms. When the paramedics arrived, they found her sitting on a bench, just zoned out.”
“How do they know she’s infected?”
“They gave her tests at the hospital. Also, one of the paramedics got infected, and his body split into pieces in the same horrific way, hence they’re calling it ‘The Splits.’ Small, white dots of light flew from Hannah’s body into his.”
“I see. I guess we’d better be careful.”
“I guess it’s just more mainstream media bullshit.”
“Come on, Peter. You’re always saying that.”
“Because I’m always right.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” Michelle said.
“I never wear masks, and I haven’t caught anything…over ten years.”
“You’ve been lucky. You’ve also been lucky to have parents who rule over this municipality, so they can bail you out when the cops give you a hard time for not wearing a mask.”
“Your parents could bail you out for defying this b.s., too, if you had the guts to, like me,” Peter said. “The media corporation they’re a part of governs your neighbouring municipality, too. We’re not like the unlucky poor people who don’t have family in the corporate city governments. And I’ve been lucky not to get sick? I’ve had my eyes open! All these viral variations of Covid we’ve had over the past decade. It’s just seasonal flu.”
“Oh, not this again. Your bachelor’s degree is in Poli Sci, Peter, not medicine.”
“Yours isn’t in medicine either, Michelle; it’s in English lit. Still, you don’t have to have a degree in medicine to know something fishy is going on here. What ever happened to seasonal flu, Michelle? People used to die of it yearly by the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, prior to 2020, then the global financial crisis hit in early 2020, and the capitalist class needed a distraction: the flu rebranded as a global pandemic. Millions of people plunged into joblessness and poverty, while the billionaire class, now directly our cities’ governments, have made billions more over the years, and everyone’s misery and loss of freedoms can all be conveniently blamed on a virus.”
“The flu disappeared because people, unlike you, were masking up, social distancing, and taking fewer flights.”
“Assuming the flu and the ‘rona are separate diseases, those preventative measures might reduce the flu cases, but we’re talking about a virtual disappearance of the flu, while the pandemic remains unabated, even stronger. I’m not buying it, and I’m not buying into this new one, ‘The Splits’.”
“Fine,” Michelle said, rolling her eyes. “Believe whatever you want.”
Both of them were pouting. He looked over at her, unhappy that he’d annoyed her. Then he remembered something he could always say to charm her.
“Hey, Michelle,” he said in a cooing voice.
“What?” she said, glaring at him.
“Let me see the pretty face you have hiding under that mask.”
She ignored him.
“C’mon,” he said. “I always enjoy seeing your pretty, dark brown eyes, but I see so little of your lovely smile. Lemme see your face again.”
She pulled her mask down under her mouth. She stuck her tongue out at him, then put the mask back on.
He snorted at her.
“As soon as we’re done here, I’m going over to Mississauga District to talk to my mom and dad about this new disease.”
“Same here,” Peter said. “I’m heading right over to MedicinaTech.”
An hour later, Peter had arrived in MedicinaTech, his parents’ pharmaceutical and vaccine-making corporation, and also the seat of government in his district. He waited in his parents’ office for them to arrive.
As he waited, he looked out the glass walls of the office and at all the masked employees rushing about doing this and that, always careful never to get too close to each other. He sneered in disgust at their, in his opinion, thoughtless compliance to all the rules meant to protect us from the viral variant of the time.
He thought about what had been happening over the past decade. Not just about the viruses, but also about how corporations no longer used the government to protect their interests…how corporations gradually replaced governments. It all started with certain tech companies in Nevada creating their own governments, as proposed by a bill back in early 2021. Over the 2020s, this idea caught on little by little as a way for capitalists to cut out the middle-man of the state.
There was some resistance at first, of course, but gradually people became used to the idea, and just passively accepted it. By the end of the decade, pretty much the whole world was being run by corporations as local district governments; city-states practically replaced federal governments, and countries existed more or less in name only. No longer was it even pretended that governments looked out for the interests of the people: what had once been only implied was now explicitly understood. Corporations were the government, because they were the only thing the government had been there to care for anyway.
Though Peter benefited from the privilege of being the son of governors of his area, he still sighed, sad for all the people, the vast majority, who didn’t get to enjoy his benefits. When his parents died, and he was to succeed them, he planned to give up the whole MedicinaTech company and give the power back to the people…if he could.
Now, sympathy for the people was only part of the reason, a large part, but still only a part of the reason, he’d give up the company and give back the power to them. The other reason, equally, if not more central a reason, was that he’d do it to spite the parents who’d frustrated and hurt him so many times over the years, regardless of the privileges and protections he’d got from them.
His parents arrived after about five minutes of his waiting. Both were wearing masks. His father, tall and thin, followed his shorter and chunkier mother through the doorway, and they saw Peter sitting by their desks. “Hi, Peter,” his mother said, though avoiding his eyes. “What can we do for you?” His parents sat at their desks.
“I heard that Derek Gould died last night,” Peter said.
“Yeah,” his father said without a trace of emotion. He also never looked at his son even once; he just ran his hand over the bald top of his head, then put his fingers through the grey hair on the back of his head, his eyes focused on what was on his computer screen.
“We need to find a new CFO, and fast,” his mother said with an equal lack of emotion. “It’s going to be a real pain.” Her finger moved a lock of greyish-red hair out of her green eyes.
“You two don’t seem too broken up about his death,” Peter said. “He’d only been with this company since it began, hadn’t he?”
“When you run a business, you focus on the business,” his father said. “Not on feelings.”
“And that goes double for governing a district,” his mother added. “Your head has to be clear when dealing with the kind of pressure your father and I have, dear.”
“Yeah, but you’ve never focused on anyone’s feelings here,” Peter said with a hint of aggression. “Not Derek’s or his wife’s, not the workers you overwork and underpay, not–“
“Oh, let’s not start that up again!” his mother said, finally looking at him, but with a scowl.
“This is the influence of your girlfriend’s family’s liberal newspaper, no doubt,” his father said.
“The newspaper that governs our neighbouring district, and that demonizes our company and all the good we do for the world,” his mother said. “And of all the people you could have chosen for a girlfriend, you chose the daughter of the Buchanan family, our enemy. Sometimes I think you chose her on purpose, Peter! To ally with the family that demonizes our good work, just to spite us! Their demonizing turns customers away from us and lowers our profits.”
“Yeah, all the profiting off of other people’s suffering!” Peter shouted. “Actually, Michelle’s newspaper doesn’t criticize you enough, as I see it. Their writers think these viruses are real. Michelle isn’t influencing me one tenth as much as you think she is. I was just debating her earlier today about whether this new virus is real, which she believes it is. My opposition to what you’re doing here is from my own heart.”
“Yet, like a hypocrite, you enjoy all the benefits of being the son of wealthy, politically powerful parents,” his father said with a sneer, his contemptuous black eyes looking straight at Peter and seeming to burn into his skin. “You, as our son, who doesn’t have to wear masks or stay in lockdown.”
“And an ungrateful son, at that,” his mother growled. “Maybe we should deny you those benefits, so you can learn some appreciation.”
“Instead of bellyaching and living off of our charity, why don’t you go out and find a job with that wonderfully useful degree you have in political science,” his father said. “You know, the degree we paid thousands of dollars for, the one that taught you how to think like a communist and be so disrespectful to your parents!”
“Giving us guilt trips for the crime of being successful,” his mother said.
“I knew it was pointless coming here,” Peter said, then stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
“That’s it, slam the door!” his mother shouted.
“Why did I have to have Friedrich Engels for a son?” his father said with a sigh.
Michelle arrived in her mother’s office in their newspaper, The Mississauga Exposé, about an hour after Peter had arrived in his parents’ office. “Hi, Mom,” she said as she walked through the doorway.
“Hi, sweetie,” her mom said with a smile that Michelle couldn’t see under her mask, but could feel. “How’s everything? How’s Peter?”
Still with her own mask on, Michelle didn’t get close to her mother, though she wanted to hug her, a feeling her mother also had.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Michelle said. “Still anti-mask, as usual. How are you?”
“Oh, good,” her mom said, then looked at Michelle’s eyes. “Oh, that’s nice eye-shadow, sweetie. Dark blue looks good on you. You should use less eyebrow pencil, though. You have naturally pretty eyebrows—no need to accentuate them artificially.”
Michelle grinned under her mask. “Thanks again for the beauty tips.”
“My pleasure,” her mom said. “You know, there’s a new virus we need to worry about.”
“That’s what we’re calling it. Our reporter, Ann Carleton, thought up the name. Stroke of genius on her part. All the other media outlets are using the term, too–all over the world.”
“Peter doesn’t believe it’s real.”
“He doesn’t believe any virus is real,” her mom said.
“I know, but this new one sounds a bit on the unbelievable side to me, too, to be honest. I mean, seriously? People’s bodies split and break into pieces as soon as they’re infected?”
“I know it sounds incredible, but Ann was on the spot at the time a paramedic’s body split and blew up into fifty pieces right in front of her.”
“And you believe her?” Michelle asked with a slight sneer.
“She’s been a trusted journalist for over ten years, eight of which she’s worked for me. She’s never once reported a story we needed to retract.”
“Yeah, but this virus sounds a little…out there. It’s the kind of thing that feeds easily into Peter’s paranoid government conspiracy theories.”
“What do you think?” her mom asked. “That we made it all up? That Ann was high on drugs or something? Look, I’ll agree with you that this is a pretty wild new virus. It’s unlike anything anyone has ever encountered. It seems like something from outer space or something.”
“That’s what Peter said it sounded like.”
“Still, there were witnesses who confirmed what Ann saw and heard, including the wife of the CFO of MedicinaTech, a company we hardly have any sympathy for, as you know. We rule our district far more humanely than they do theirs. The lockdown and mask rules aren’t so strict here, and income inequality isn’t as bad.”
“Mom, that fact that you and Dad rule our district is precisely what makes it not done so humanely,” Michelle said. “There I find myself in solid agreement with Peter over all this corporate government. Income inequality isn’t as bad, but it isn’t all that much better here, either.”
“Oh, the idealism of young adulthood,” her mother said. “I was once like you. As for now, what can I say? We do the best we can here.”
“Mom, we can do much better.”
Her mom sighed in annoyance. “Anyway, the CFO’s wife, Hannah Gould, has been quarantined, for though she’s infected and a carrier, it isn’t killing her. Doctors can learn more about The Splits: what kind of virus it is, where it came from, why some are susceptible to dying from it, and why others aren’t. Our reporting on this research can do a lot of good for everyone, while MedicinaTech will just profit from selling vaccines of questionable worth to treat The Splits.”
“This paper profits from the news stories, too, Mom,” Michelle said.
Now her mom was getting angry. “Michelle, I want to help the disadvantaged as much as you do, but we have to keep profits up in order for the paper to survive, and our control of the government is part of that survival. I’d like for us to be able to help more, but it’s not as easy as you think it is. It’s easy for you, an English lit major, to sit around at home all day, without a job, and complain about the world without having any responsibilities to do anything about it.”
“Of course, if you’d used your English degree to go into journalism school and gotten a job here as a reporter, as was your original plan, you could have written the kind of articles that would have given a voice to those complaints, instead of letting your boyfriend talk you out of it, which isn’t helping us in our work against MedicinaTech, or helping your own personal causes.”
“C’mon, Mom. I don’t wanna fight.”
“Neither do I, and I have a lot of work to do. Now, can you just drop it?”
“Fine,” Michelle said.
A masked woman in her thirties entered the office.
“Ann, there you are,” Michelle’s mother said with a sigh, calming down. “She’s the one who got the scoop for us on The Splits story.”
“Here’s the report on those tests you were asking about, Siobhan,” Ann said, handing her the papers.
“Thank you, Ann.”
Ann scratched at her afro, just above her right ear, then little dots of white light flew out of her eyes and at Siobhan’s chest.
“Ungh!” Siobhan grunted, then she staggered and fell to the floor, shaking and screaming in pain. The papers flew all over the floor. She felt sharp pains of pulling and stretching all over her skin, innards, and bones. Bulges on her bruising face tore her mask off.
“Mom?” Michelle said, bending down to see her.
“Don’t get close to her,” Ann said with surprisingly little emotion. “Or to me. I’d better go into quarantine myself. I’m so sorry, Siobhan.” Ann ran out of the office, putting out her hands and warning the staff out there, “Don’t come near me!”
“Mom!” Michelle screamed, her eyes watering up.
Siobhan’s body had red cracks all over it, which opened and closed, over and over again, as she was shaking and grunting on the floor in agony. Her clothes were tearing at her arm sleeves, shirt, and pant legs, from bulges in those areas of her body where the painful stretching and pulling was happening, all attempts to expel what Ann put in her.
Thoughts were racing through Siobhan’s mind: What is this inside me? Get it out of me!!!
“Somebody get a doctor!” Michelle screamed out the wide-open office door. “My mom’s in trouble!” Why didn’t Ann call a doctor? she thought, then, Why haven’t I? Stupid! She took out her smartphone and called 9-1-1.
Shaking almost as much as her mother was, Michelle looked down at her. Her eyes and mouth widened to see those red cracks opening and closing, back and forth and back and forth, like many mouths speaking but making no sound. It was hard for her to speak coherently on the phone, making inarticulate words through her sobs and trembling voice.
To keep her self-control, she had to look away from her mother while explaining the emergency. After finishing her 9-1-1 call, she looked back down at her mother. The cracks kept opening…and closing.
Siobhan’s thoughts were swaying side to side over what to make of what had come inside her body: from Get this out of my body! to Could this not be as bad as I think it is? Back and forth between the two thoughts…back and forth. Similarly, the pain increased and lessened in waves.
It seemed to Michelle that her mother was fighting the virus. “Keep fighting, Mom,” she sobbed. “Don’t let it kill you.”
Her father was hurrying over to the office, having heard from an employee what had happened to Siobhan. Michelle looked over and saw him coming: though he had a mask on like everyone else, she could recognize him by his bald head and grey hair around the sides (like Peter’s father), and his brown eyes and light brown suit, a colour he preferred to wear.
“No, Dad!” she screamed. “Don’t come in here!” She closed the glass door in his face.
He froze in front of the closed door, standing there and looking through the glass with a stupefied, helpless expression.
“What’s wrong with her?” he asked in a trembling voice.
“She has The Splits!” Michelle yelled. “It’s contagious! I could have it. Paramedics are on the way. Keep out!”
In five minutes, paramedics in decontamination suits arrived. Siobhan was put on a stretcher in her own decontamination suit, with a bag valve mask on her face. She was given a sedative to calm her and to stop her violent shaking. Michelle and her father stood back, separate from each other for fear that she was a carrier, as they watched the paramedics take Siobhan out of the building.
Michelle went up to one of the paramedics just before he was to leave the office.
“I was nearby when the virus was passed on to my mother,” she said. “I could be a carrier showing no symptoms.”
“Come with us,” he said. “We’ll have you tested. Let me get a decontamination suit for you to wear.”
Why couldn’t Ann have gone into quarantine before? Michelle wondered.
That night, Ann Carleton went home. Her husband was in the living room, watching TV.
“Hi, honey,” she said to him after taking off her mask. “Are Andy and Shawna in bed?”
“Of course,” he said, then turned off the TV and got off the sofa. “I tucked them in an hour ago.”
“Good,” she said. “You just got back from your business trip in the New York District?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Five hours ago. The new deal is going to bring in a lotta bucks for us.”
“That’s good to hear,” she said with a frown that didn’t escape his attention.
“How was work today?” he asked. “Still fighting the good fight against MedicinaTech?”
“Not anymore. I had to quit.”
His jaw dropped. “Why? I thought Don and Siobhan considered you their favourite reporter.”
“Something…happened to me last night.”
“What?” He was walking towards her with growing worry on his face.
“Have you heard of ‘The Splits’ yet?”
“No…what are you talking about, Ann?”
“This.” The dots of light flew out of her fingers and into his chest.
“Aaah!!!” he yelled, buckled over, and fell to the floor. The red cracks appeared on his face, neck, and hands. The sharp pains of stretching and pulling had come immediately.
She just stood there and looked down at him with a blank expression.
Everything in his body was screaming out, Get this out of me! It’s horrific! Evil! Get it out of my body! But it wouldn’t leave him without taking pieces of him with it. The stretches and pulls were making bulges all over his body, huge bulges that began to make little tears in his clothes.
“Ann…help!” he grunted. The red cracks were beginning to open a millimetre or two. “Oh!”
But she just stood there and watched him, without a trace of feeling on her face. He reached up, but she wouldn’t take his hand. His bones felt on the verge of cracking or dislocating.
It’s too bad, she thought. I didn’t think he’d accept the new way. Siobhan might…if she hasn’t already died, that is. It’s a good thing I got out of the newspaper building without anyone knowing I was the one who passed it on to her.
His head split in two: the hemispheres of his brain were showing. His shirt ripped open, then his chest did, showing off his ribcage, which then broke open, showing his heart, lungs, and stomach. Now these three had horizontal tears in them, showing off the insides. Still, no blood or other internal liquids flowed out.
He just lay there, shaking and jerking.
Get it out! Get it out! I can’t…have this…in me…
Finally, his body burst into pieces that flew in all directions in the living room. They lay on the carpet, shaking. She looked around at all of them in perfect calmness, knowing full well what was happening and having no qualms about it.
Dark holes formed in the torn-off insides of each broken-off fragment. These holes looked like mouths, opening and closing as if trying to say something, but only grunting what sounded like some language intelligible only to her.
The fragments grew dull in colour, stopped moving, and slouched on the carpet. Now all dead, they let the blood and other liquids pour out and stain the carpet. Ann felt no concern about the mess.
She turned around, walked to the stairs, and went up them. She got to her kids’ bedroom door and opened it gently so as not to make a noise. She went in and left both the light off and the door open.
Andy and Shawna, five and six respectively, woke up. “Mommy?” the boy asked, rubbing his eyes. “Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s not going to be with us anymore,” Ann said with a smile.
“Why not?” Shawna asked with a frown.
“It’s OK,” Ann said, still grinning. “You won’t need him anymore.” She let out the little lights from her fingers; they went into her kids’ foreheads.
They felt a warm glow soothing their little bodies, from head to toe. Now they were grinning as much as their mom was.
This feels really nice, they both thought in their sweet innocence. We’re going to make the world a better place for everybody.
“Have a nice sleep, you two,” she said, then kissed both of them on the cheek, got up, walked back to the door, went out, and closed it.
Andy and Shawna put their heads back on their pillows, closed their eyes, and went back to sleep, smiling the whole time.
A week later, Michelle was in her bedroom, chatting with Peter on her smartphone.
“So, have you got your test results back?” he asked with the expected tone of disbelief.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m OK. I’m not a carrier.”
“I could’ve told you that a week ago,” he said.
“Peter,” she said, struggling not to raise her voice. “My mom has it. She’s in quarantine, struggling to fight it off. You weren’t there when she caught it. I was.“
“What did you see? An acting job?”
“It’s real, Peter! She wasn’t acting. I saw red cracks all over her body. They were opening and closing. I could see bits of her brain showing!”
“Did you see any blood?” he asked. She could almost see his sneer. “Blood must have been flying all over the place if her head was opening up.”
“No…oddly, there wasn’t any blood.”
“Which makes this whole thing all the less believable.”
“Oh, go to hell, Peter! Don’t talk to me again until you grow up!” She hung up on him. “Ignorant, arrogant asshole!”
Her father was standing by her ajar bedroom door. “Michelle?”
She looked over at him. “How’s Mom?” she asked.
“She’s about the same,” he said with a sigh. “Still struggling with it. According to the people taking care of her, those cracks on her body keep widening and narrowing, back and forth, in a kind of stalemate.”
“Have the doctors learned anything about how to help her get better?” she asked with teary eyes.
“No. All that seems to help is the wearing of decontamination clothing. A week has gone by and no one wearing that clothing ever catches The Splits. People on the news are already telling everyone to buy those suits and wear them everywhere. Stores are all getting stocked up with them as we speak.”
“I know. Peter’s gonna hate it. He’ll never comply.” She started crying.
“Oh, honey.” Her father walked over to her and put his arm around her. “We’ve both been tested, so I guess we can make contact. But Peter’s still being stubborn, eh?”
“Yeah,” she sobbed. “He’s too proud to admit he’s wrong. When…er, if…he catches it, I don’t wanna be there and see his body cracking into pieces.”
“He might just be a carrier.”
“Then he’ll carelessly give it to me, or to you, or to somebody else, to many other people, and at least some of them will die. I might be there to see that, and I’ll have to explain why I wasn’t insistent enough to get him to wear the protective clothing.” She sobbed louder.
“Do you still want to go out with him?”
“Yes, of course. I still love him. I’m just mad at him, and really afraid for all of us.” She knew her father’s real motives for asking the question: if she’d stop being Peter’s girlfriend, she wouldn’t have his influence, and maybe she wouldn’t be so against her parents’ business and governance of the Mississauga area. She might even reconsider going to journalism school and working for the paper.
And as she was all too aware, he was much more adamant in defending his business than her mom was.
Still, she bit her tongue: now was not the time to be fighting with him.
Now was a time they all needed to pull together.
After Michelle hung up on Peter, he went into his living room, where his parents were watching TV.
“So, did Michelle tell you how her mother is doing?” his mother asked with what looked like a smirk of hope.
“She says her mom is still in hospital, struggling with The Splits,” he said. “Not that I’m buying a word of it.”
“The Splits is real, Peter,” his father said. “Not that I feel any sympathy for Siobhan Buchanan, of course.”
“If she could die, it would make things a lot better for us, that’s for sure,” his mother said, still with that smirk.
“You two disgust me,” Peter said with a sneer. “I don’t believe in The Splits, but at least I’m not wishing death on anyone. Why don’t you two even share a heart between you?”
“Peter!” his mother shouted at him. “Maybe if you hadn’t made things so difficult for us over the past ten years, we wouldn’t have such ‘cold hearts’ around other people!”
“Wait a minute, Mom! How are your corporate greed and political ambition my fault?”
“Have you forgotten how much trouble you made for us back when you were at school during the early coronavirus outbreak?” his father said. “Your constant refusal to wear masks, your refusal to get vaccinated, which by the way, made our company look bad, and how we had to bail you out every time you got into trouble for that.”
“The many times we had to bail you out!” his mother said. “And I don’t appreciate your tone, young man.”
“Our ‘political ambition’ in taking over the Toronto government was motivated in large part by our wish to protect you from the trouble you were constantly putting yourself into, adding to our stress,” his father said. “But of course, you have no appreciation for that, do you?”
“Dad, your taking over the Toronto government was also motivated in even larger part by your ambition to control everything!”
“Oh, would you get out of here!” his father growled.
“Yeah, who needs you?” his mother shouted. “You arrogant little bastard!”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” he shouted, then went outside with a forceful throwing of the door shut.
“That’s it,” his father said. “Slam the door behind you! Every bloody time!”
Peter and Michelle exchanged text messages over the following week. Each exchange was a variation on this:
Peter: When am I going to see you again? I’m lonely. Mom and Dad are making me miserable, and I need someone to talk to.
Michelle: Are you wearing protective clothing?
Peter: No way!
Michelle: You’re not seeing me until you are.
In her living room, she looked down at the messages on her phone, having just sent that last text. Please, God, if You exist, she thought, make Peter see the light.
Her father came in, wearing a yellow protective suit, but with the head covering in his hands. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, putting her phone in her purse. “Is Mom really better?”
“That’s what the doctors said,” he said. “They say there hasn’t been any splitting of her skin for the past three days. Your mom doesn’t even have those red crack lines on her body anymore. She is a carrier, though, so suit up.”
“OK.” Michelle put on her suit, they both put on their head coverings, and they left the house.
As they went in the car to the hospital, she looked out the window to see all the pedestrians and people in neighbouring cars, in protective clothing from head to toe, all those essential workers who didn’t need to stay home. She could see through the plastic, transparent face coverings of those close enough to the car to see the blank expressions on their faces.
“MedicinaTech’s vaccines sure have taken the life out of everybody,” she said with a sigh. “They’re all just a bunch of passive automatons. So easy to control. What the hell has happened to the world over the past ten years, Daddy? How did the 2020s turn everything into, well, Nineteen Eighty-Four?”
“Just be glad you’re one of the people who are exempt from taking any of those vaccines, Michelle,” he said. “We didn’t want you to be a zombie like them, and our money and influence ensured you wouldn’t be, so be grateful for that.”
“Yeah, but it isn’t fair to all of those other people.”
“Life isn’t fair.”
“That’s an easy evasion of responsibility, Dad.”
“Look, if you want to blame someone, blame the company the parents of your boyfriend are running, not me. Our newspaper constantly criticizes MedicinaTech for not doing anything about the bad side effects of their vaccines.”
“But your employees, especially the lower level ones, all take the vaccines, too.”
“We have to vaccinate them, honey. No choice. It’s the law.”
“But they all have that same half-asleep look on their faces. I wonder how your reporters can be sharp enough to get the facts of their stories straight.”
“We give them a stimulant to counteract the lulling effects of the vaccines,” her dad said.
“Yeah, everyone’s on drugs,” Michelle said with a frown and a touch of anger in her voice. “How wonderful. As long as you and Mom are profiting from all of this, though, right?”
“Oh, here we go again,” he sighed. “You haven’t forgotten that you, as our daughter, benefit from those profits, too, have you?”
“No, I haven’t, and that’s part of why I feel bad for all those Mississaugans out there that our newspaper business-slash-government is ruling over. We enjoy all those benefits–wealth, exemption from lockdowns, influence–that those zombified people don’t have.”
“Governing a city is no picnic, Michelle.”
“Then give up on the governing! Put it back in the hands of the public; then we can create some social programs to help the poor, and we can have an unbiased media that doesn’t twist the facts of current events to reinforce and justify this family’s rule over the city.”
“Social programs for the poor,” he scoffed. “That’s Peter’s commie influence on you, isn’t it?”
“That’s my own, independent thinking, and you don’t have to be a ‘commie’ to believe that! Peter just happens to agree with me on that one point. You’re just mad because I’m not under your influence!”
They arrived in the hospital parking lot.
“Look, let’s just drop it, OK, Michelle? Let’s try to be in a good mood when we see your mother. I’m so grateful she didn’t die on us; this is going to be an emotional moment for me, and I don’t need your arguing to make it even harder.” He said these words in a building crescendo of rage.
“Fine,” she said with a sigh.
They got out of the car and went into the hospital. They were in a waiting room flooded with visitors, nurses, orderlies, and doctors all in those protective suits, some yellow like Michelle’s and her father’s, and others in blue, pink, red, and orange.
“I know what Peter would say to the people in all these different coloured suits,” she said when she and her father found some seats. “‘Look at all those lovely colours,’ he’d say with sarcasm. ‘We can all be conformists and fashionable at the same time! The illusion of choice!’”
Yet, he’s still your boyfriend, her father thought with a frown.
In fifteen minutes, they were allowed to go into Siobhan’s quarantine room.
Lying on her bed and also in a protective suit (purple) with the head covering on, she had a blank expression, though one not so passive as those vaccinated workers Michelle had seen outside.
Michelle and her dad approached her bed.
“Mom?” she said, troubled by Siobhan’s emotionlessness. “You look far too peaceful to be believed.”
“Hi, sweetie,” she said with a smile that seemed almost forced. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. The struggle is over.”
Tears ran down not only Michelle’s cheeks, but also her father’s. He would find it harder and harder to resist the temptation to take off his head covering, so much did he hate feeling any separation from the wife he almost lost.
“Don, I’m OK,” Siobhan said softly. “I’ve also been thinking about all Michelle has said about what’s wrong with the newspaper. We should make some changes…”
“Well, let’s not get carried away, Siobhan,” he said, troubled by this shift in her attitude. He also started finding the room strangely, uncomfortably warm, as did Michelle and Siobhan.
“Yeah, as glad as I am to hear you say that, Mom, I think that for the moment, we should just focus on you getting better.”
“I am better, honey,” Siobhan said, removing her head covering. “Ah, that feels better. I can breathe now.”
“Mom, I don’t think you should do that.”
“I’m 100%, sweetie,” Siobhan said with a grin for her daughter. “Besides, it’s getting hot in here. Don’t you feel it?”
“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable, but you’re still a carrier,” Michelle said. “You might infect somebody. People could die.”
“Only if they resist, Michelle,” Siobhan said, looking at Don with what looked like warning eyes.
“Resist? Resist what, Mom?”
Tears of relief were soaking Don’s face. An urge to hug and kiss his wife was overwhelming him. The heat in the room was bothering him, too. “I don’t think I can resist any more.”
He took off his head covering and reached forward to kiss Siobhan. Her eyes widened a bit.
“No, Daddy!” Michelle screamed.
Siobhan accepted his kiss on her left cheek and his arms around her with a serene smile.
Then the little white dots flew out of her and into him.
“Ungh!” he groaned, then fell to the floor. Sharp, stretching pains stung him all over his body. Bulges bubbling all over his head were already causing bruising.
“Dad!” Michelle screamed, bending down to help him, but now the red crack marks were all over his face. He was shaking and grunting. “Help! Somebody out there! Any doctors? Nurses?!”
Within seconds, a doctor, a nurse, and two orderlies ran into the room. One of the orderlies put Siobhan’s head covering back on. “Miss, you have to keep this on,” he said firmly.
No, Don thought as his body jerked on the floor. No way I’m accepting these things inside me. They’re horrible.
Now, Michelle could see her father’s brain through the opening cracks.
They would open wide, but close only slightly between even wider openings. The pain grew sharper, while lessening ever so little before other, stronger surges of pain. It was like waves of agony that rose higher and higher. His protective suit would show fidgeting bulges where the rest of his body was cracking open, ripping through the clothes underneath the suit.
Get this out of my body! Get it out! he thought.
The medical staff just stood there in a daze of astonishment, not knowing what to do. The doctor was on the verge of tears, hating herself for her helplessness at watching a man die and doing nothing about it.
“Daddy, don’t die on me!” Michelle sobbed.
But the inevitable happened. Don’s body parts ripped apart so violently that they tore out of his clothes and protective suit, flying in all directions in an explosion, and causing a swarm of screams.
Body parts smacked into Michelle and the medical staff, knocking them all back onto the floor. Shaking, they all looked on with wide eyes and mouths at the fidgeting pieces of the separated four quarters of Don’s head, his bifurcated neck, pieces of his arms, chest, stomach, groin, legs, and feet, all torn into halves, thirds, and even more, smaller fragments.
There still was no blood. The pieces shuffled and wobbled back and forth on the floor, as if alive. Holes formed in the exposed inner anatomy, opening and closing like mouths talking. In fact, Michelle, Siobhan, and the hospital staff could hear something being said through all those ‘mouths.’
Over and over again, a chorus of grunts of the word, “No.”
“Oh, my God!” the nurse said.
After a minute or so of the fidgeting body parts repeating, “No, no, no, no…,” they all lost colour, stopped moving, and lay there, dead. White dots of light flew out of the body parts and out of the room, startling everyone. Blood poured out in lakes all over the floor.
“Was I hearing things, or were they speaking?” one of the orderlies asked.
“We all saw and heard it,” the doctor said in sobs. “And we don’t believe our eyes or ears any more than you do.”
“Let’s clean up this mess,” the shaking nurse said, then he looked at Michelle and said, “I’m so sorry, Miss.”
The doctor went over to weeping Michelle and put her arms around her. She sobbed, “I’m sorry, too. I’ve seen this happen so many times, and I just can’t do anything! I can never sleep.”
“I don’t blame any of you, Doctor,” Michelle said between sobs. “This whole thing is getting so crazy.” And my last moment with Daddy was an argument with him. Why does this have to be?
They left the room together while the nurse and orderlies began picking up Don’s pieces.
In all of the confusion and shock, no one paid any attention to Siobhan or her reaction to her husband’s death…a sad, but rather calm, reaction.
That night, Siobhan’s doctor went home. As soon as she got in the door, she removed the head piece of her protective suit. She let out a big sigh, a frown permanently etched on her face.
Her husband came out from the kitchen and into the front hall to see her. “Hi, honey,” he said.
“Hi,” she sighed more than said.
“Rough day at work, eh?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said with another sigh. “Did you wear your protective suit all day?”
“Yes, of course,” he said.
“You never took it off once, not until you came home?” she asked, maintaining her distance from him.
“Yes, of course. What’s wrong, honey?”
As she unzipped her suit, she broke out into tears.
“Oh, honey,” he said, approaching her.
“No!” she sobbed, her hand out to keep him at a distance. She continued removing the suit.
“Another one died from The Splits, eh?”
“Yes,” she sobbed, the suit now completely off her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. One violent death after another, and there’s nothing I can do to help these people.” She crouched down and her sobs rose in volume to bawling. “All I wanna do is help them, heal them, and I can’t!”
He let out a sigh as he watched her with compassionate sadness on his face.
“You know, I know a way to end your crying,” he said, looking down at the floor.
“Oh, you do, do you?” she bawled, her head down in her hands. “What could you possibly do to make me feel better? How are you going to make me sleep at night? What could you possibly know that will give me peace? How can—“
Some little dots of light flew out of his fingers and into her head.
At first, she was shaking, her eyes and mouth wide open with a panicked expression after raising her head up out of her hands. The red cracks were all over her head, neck, and hands. “Ungh!” she groaned. She felt a few brief spasms of pain.
What is this in my body? she thought in her anguished fidgeting. Get it out! Get it out of me!
Then, after a minute or so in this tense state, her shaking lessened. The pain stopped.
Wait…maybe this isn’t so bad…
The red cracks thinned, then faded away. She felt a warmness buzzing all through her body, calming her.
Yes, it’s OK…it’s OK…
She rose to her feet slowly. No longer crying, she wiped the tears off her face.
She looked at him. “Thank you,” she said in a soft voice. “Now I understand.”
She grinned up at him. He grinned back.
A week later, Peter was texting and calling Michelle over and over again, though she wouldn’t answer, until she received this text from him: I won’t stop ringing your phone until you answer and talk to me!
Finally, she, at home, answered with a sigh: “What’s your problem?”
“Gee, I don’t know,” he replied. “Could it be that I have a girlfriend who hasn’t communicated with me in over a week? My parents are constantly being nasty to me, and I have no shoulder to cry one, not even from my own girlfriend. Could that be my problem?”
“Would you like to know what my problem is?” she asked.
“I don’t know: could it be believing in a fake disease?”
“Oh, a ‘fake’ disease that I saw kill my father with my own eyes?” she said in tears.
“Your father?” Peter said. “I thought it was your mother who had it.”
“She got better, but she’s a carrier now, and she gave it to him. I watched his body explode all over the hospital room. His body parts hit me and the medical staff there!”
Peter tried to keep his chuckling inaudible, but she heard a bit of it.
“It was in the news, Peter! Didn’t you read about it, or see it on the TV? The Splits killed my father!!”
“I don’t follow the news anymore, Michelle. You should know by now that I don’t trust the media.”
“People have been reporting cases of this pandemic all over the world. It’s real, Peter! Millions have been infected, thousands have died. Video has been recorded of bodies ripping apart and exploding!”
“People can fake all kinds of things on TV. They just use movie-style special effects. I’m sorry, Michelle, but until I see it with my own two eyes, I’m simply not going to believe it.”
“I didn’t see ‘special effects’ kill my father, Peter. It happened right in front of me! And until you’re in one of those protective suits, I’m simply not gonna be anywhere near you.”
“Oh, come on, Michelle. Let’s not fight. I miss you. I wanna see your pretty face. I miss your touch.”
Her jaw dropped. “You just want sex?“
“No, not just that. Come on, Michelle, you know me better than that. I’m not like all those guys you dated before you met me, and just wanted your body. Your physical beauty is only a small part of why I love you. I miss all of you. Your company, your smile, your closeness. I’m lonely.”
“Well, I…I miss you, too,” she said with a sigh.
“Then let’s get together. Come on!”
“Peter, if I see those white dots of light fly into your body and tear you apart, all because you’re too proud to wear a protective suit, I won’t be able to handle it. I’ve seen The Splits kill my dad, and it almost killed my mom. Dad wanted Mom’s touch, they took off their head coverings, and it killed him. I don’t want to see that happen to either of us. So, suit up, or stay away.”
Peter let out a sigh and asked, “How’s your mom?”
“She’s OK now, I guess. She’s back at work at the newspaper and governing Mississauga, with a special marking on her protective suit so people will know she’s a carrier.”
“Is she acting strangely, or anything?”
“She is, actually. She doesn’t show much emotion. She gives me these reassuring grins, telling me she’s fine, but the grins look fake. She didn’t look at all broken up about Dad’s death, and that makes absolutely no sense. She totally loved him.”
“No crying at all?” Peter asked.
“None,” Michelle said. “At his funeral, she frowned in what looked more like boredom than grief.”
“Really? That’s weird.”
“Yeah. What’s even weirder, though actually a good thing, is she says she wants to make some democratic changes to her administration of our district, and to be more objective in the reporting of the news here.”
“Whoa!” Peter’s jaw dropped now. “That’s even harder to believe than all these diseases. Still, I’ll be glad if it’s true.”
“Well, it isn’t going to be easy for her to make these changes, since all the other people on the Board of Directors for the magazine/government have a major say in the decision-making, and none of them will be easily persuaded by her.”
“Now, that sounds believable,” Peter said with a sneer. “Anyway, are we gonna get together or not?”
“Are you gonna wear a suit, or not?”
“Oh, come on!”
“No suit, no cuddles.”
“How can we cuddle in those confining things? With the plastic in front of our faces, we can’t kiss.”
“It’ll be difficult, but at least we’ll be together.”
“Look, I’ll think about it, OK? Just answer my calls.”
“I’ll answer them, but I won’t see you until you suit up. Got it?”
He moaned. “Got it. Bye.”
“Bye.” They hung up.
The next day, Peter, still without a protective suit, went over to his parents’ office in MedicinaTech. As he walked through the halls, passed the other offices, and went up the elevator on the way there, he frowned and sneered at the sight of everyone else who, without exception, not only wore the protective clothing, but had that passive, almost trance-like look on their faces, because of the vaccines they’d taken.
This is so pathetic, he thought.
On the top floor where his parents’ office was, however, his eyes widened to see the few employees working on that floor not wearing the protective suits. They were no longer wearing the old surgical masks to prevent getting any of the earlier viruses, either.
“Membership in the upper echelons has its privileges,” he whispered as he approached the office door. Funny how the older diseases have suddenly been forgotten about now that ‘The Splits’ is here, he thought.
He went in and sat in a chair by his father’s desk as his parents were reading emails on their desktops.
“What brings you in here, Peter?” his mother asked, with neither a smile for him nor even a glance in his direction.
“Oh, nothing much, just hanging out,” he said.
“We’re very busy today,” his father said. “Don’t distract us from our work with any of your petty problems.”
“I was just wondering,” Peter said. “How come everybody downstairs has to suit up, but nobody here on the top floor has to? The staff up here aren’t even wearing the old surgical masks anymore.”
“Every morning when we come in, Dr. Teague gives us a medical check first thing to determine if we’re carriers, of The Splits or of any other viruses,” his mother said. “He can get quick test results, too, within just a few hours. Since we’re all cleared of all of the viruses, and the employees downstairs are all suited up, we don’t have to be.”
“How convenient that the rulers of the city don’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else,” Peter said.
“You enjoy the same privileges,” his father said. “And you’d be crying like a baby if they were taken from you.”
“The point is that none of those people downstairs should be in those stupid suits, either,” Peter said. “Why doesn’t the doctor test them, too, to see if they have The Splits?”
“Because there are too many employees for him to test every morning,” his father said.
“On this floor, there are only about a dozen of them to test, then himself and the two of us,” Peter’s mother said.
“Besides, Dr. Teague is working on a vaccine and making some progress,” his father said.
“Well, I’d say the real reason everyone down there has to wear suits, but we up here don’t have to, is because Teague and both of you know that ‘The Splits’ is nothing but a goddamn hoax.”
“If he knows it’s a hoax, why is he working tirelessly to make a vaccine?” his father asked.
“For the same reason as with all the other vaccines MedicinaTech makes,” Peter said with rising anger. “To profit off of everyone’s fears. This hypochondriac hysteria is good business!”
“Oh, not this again,” his father said.
“It was Dr. Teague’s idea to do the tests for us, not our idea,” his mother said. “He knows that we up here do all the hard brain work, and if we’re in those uncomfortable suits all day and night, it will be harder for us to do our jobs well. It’s only a dozen or so of us up here, so we should be safe.”
“As I said before,” Peter said with a sneer. “How convenient.”
“Can you quit belly-aching, and better yet, leave?” his father said. “We have a lot of work to do today.”
“Fine,” he said with a sigh. He was about to get out of his seat, ready to walk out.
Just then, Dr. Teague came in the office, without a protective suit, of course.
Speak of the Devil, and he appears, Peter thought.
“Here’s a report of the test results from this morning,” the doctor said, handing a folder to Peter’s father.
“Thank you, Paul,” his father said, taking the folder and feeling his thumb brush against the doctor’s finger.
White dots of light flew out of Dr. Teague’s hand and into Peter’s father’s arm.
“Uhh!” his father moaned, then fell off his chair. The sharp, stretching pains began.
“Ray?” his mother said after turning her head away from her computer monitor. She got up from her desk and ran over to him. “Ray!” Those red cracks were all over his hands and head, covering the bruises the painful stretching had caused.
Peter jumped up from his chair and backed up to the glass wall to the left of the office door.
“Donna!” Ray groaned in a hoarse voice. “Help me!” He just shook all over on the floor. What are these things inside me? he thought in a frenzied panic. Get them out of me! Get them out!
Forgetting about the danger, Donna went over to Ray and held him by the arms; then some of the glowing white dots flew into her chest. “Aah!” she screamed, and fell on the floor beside him. First, bruising from the painful stretches and bulges all over her skin, then, the red cracks were visible on her skin, too, and both she and Ray were shaking and groaning on the floor.
Now she was thinking the same desperate, panicked thoughts of her husband: how to eject the foreign intrusion from her body, how there was no way she or he could accept it in them.
“Holy fuck!” Peter said, then went out of the office and closed the door. He watched his parents through the glass wall. This isn’t happening, he thought. This can’t be happening!
His parents’ body parts started ripping open, making tears in their clothes. Other office staff were looking through the glass wall on either side of Peter. One of them got out a cellphone to call 9-1-1. Another was shouting about getting protective suits up to their floor.
Peter was shaking as much as his parents were. He tried to disbelieve what he saw, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t the hallucinating kind, and what he saw couldn’t have been the fakery of movie special effects.
He saw their shirts and chests rip open. He saw their exposed hearts, stomachs, and intestines.
No blood sprayed anywhere.
There’s no way this is really happening, he thought. I must be dreaming. He pinched himself–no waking up.
His parents’ heads split open. He saw their brains, then remembered Michelle saying she’d seen her mom’s brain.
“I am such an asshole,” he whispered among the screams of the staff around him. Michelle’s going to say, ‘I told you so,’ big time, he thought.
His parents’ pants ripped open. Now Peter could see the torn muscle and sinew on their legs…and their bones.
Finally, the body parts ripped apart into several dozens of pieces and flew in all directions, a few pieces hitting and cracking the glass wall. The left half of Ray’s bare right foot struck the glass right by Peter’s face.
“No!” he yelled.
Screams of the staff pierced his eardrums.
Donna’s and Ray’s torsos lay there, each in halves beside each other, rocking side to side, limbless, and split open, on the floor by his dad’s desk. Moving holes formed in their lacerated hearts, lungs, stomachs, and intestines. Some of the holes flapped open and shut like mouths. Holes to the top left and right of the flapping holes seemed like eyes; it was as if faces were being formed in his parents’ innards.
“I must be going nuts,” Peter said among the shrieks and gasps of disbelief among the horrified staff. He couldn’t stop his spastic shaking. I’ve been stoned, and never seen anything like this, he thought.
Those ‘mouths’ were now grunting, over and over again, what sounded like, “I don’t want it,” in porcine voices.
My kingdom for a protective suit, Peter thought.
…and amid all the confusion, no one noticed how unruffled Dr. Teague was as he walked out of the office.
The fragmented body pieces grew comparatively grey in colour, then stopped moving. Blood and other internal liquids began pouring out of the holes.
Peter just stared at the body pieces in a daze, his eyes and mouth wide open. Several minutes ago, they were alive, he thought, his shaking never lessening. Now, they’re dead. My fucking parents just died violently before my eyes. How could this have possibly happened? How can everything go to hell so fast?
Some people from the local hospital arrived to collect the body pieces.
“Who else was in the room when this happened?” one of them asked.
“I was,” Peter said in a trembling voice. “Dr. Teague was, too.”
“You’ll have to come with us to be tested to see if you’re a carrier,” another of the hospital people said. “Dr. Teague, too. Where is he?”
Peter looked around and didn’t see him anywhere.
That night, Dr. Teague went home. He saw his wife and mother-in-law sitting on the couch in the living room, watching TV.
“Minnie, you’re back!” he said. “Mom? Why are you here? Hadn’t you seen enough of your daughter while she was there with you over the past week?”
“Paul, she’s scared,” Minnie said. “This whole ‘Splits’ thing is getting out of hand. She’s too scared to leave her house. She couldn’t bear to see me leave, so I suggested she come and stay with us for at least a while.”
“OK, I understand,” he said. “Mom, you’re always welcome here, of course.”
“Why aren’t you wearing a protective suit?” his mother-in-law asked in a tremulous voice. “Any time you go outside, you should be wearing one; that way, we don’t need to wear them at home.”
“Because I tested myself and a number of the other employees in MedicinaTech, the ones I work with throughout the day,” he said. “Our tests came out negative, so we could work freely, without needing to wear the suits. We’re fine. You don’t need to worry about us.”
“Your tests mean you don’t need to wear the suits at work?” Minnie asked.
“That’s right,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for the past week or so. We started doing this around when you left to visit Mom. Really, I’m fine. You don’t need to worry. In fact, we’re working on vaccines day and night for The Splits; we’ve made some progress, too.”
“Oh?” his mother-in-law said, almost smiling.
“Yes,” he said. “We’re doing great work to help humanity.”
“Then your business must be making a lot of money these days,” his mother-in-law said.
“Well, yes,” he said. “Though I’d say that’s beside the point.”
“Well, I’d say it is the point,” his mother-in-law said. “If MedicinaTech is getting good profits, you might get a raise, and my daughter will be all the better provided for.”
“Oh, we’re making plenty of money, Mom,” Minnie said. “But Paul is right to be focusing on helping humanity. Way too much emphasis is being put on the rich getting richer these days.”
“That’s right,” he said, raising his arms and pointing his fingers at both women. “Let me demonstrate how much we’re helping the world.”
The little lights flew out of his fingers.
Both women’s screams changed to groans of pain as soon as the little white dots entered their skin. Intolerable stretching, bruising pains were stinging both of them from head to toe.
Both buckled and fell to the floor; the red cracks appeared on their faces, necks, hands, and arms. They were shaking all over. He just looked down at both of them in all calmness.
Get it out of me! they thought as they shook, trying to think of a way to eject the foreign presence from their bodies. Get it out!
Minnie’s pain began to subside; her shaking lessened, then stopped.
Wait, she thought. Maybe this isn’t so bad.
The red cracks on her skin began to fade away. She felt a warm glow all over that seemed to massage her body, to make the previous pain seem almost worth it.
Yeah, she thought. This is alright.
She got up on her feet. She had gone from a scream of panic to a whisper of calm in a few minutes.
Now both of them watched her mother, who was still shaking and grunting in pain. The red cracks were widening, exposing brain, arm muscle, and finger bone.
Get it out of me! she continued thinking as she shook and squirmed on the floor. Get it out!
“Oh, Mama,” Minnie said with a sigh. “That’s too bad. I really hoped you could have joined us.”
He, too, looked down at his mother-in-law with a sad face.
The old woman’s body exploded all over the living room.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Peter,” Michelle said on her cellphone in her bedroom. “To have lost my dad is something I’m still reeling from, especially since I saw him die right in front of me, and so violently. ‘Traumatic’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Since you saw it happen to both parents, it must have been so much harder for you.”
“I’m still shaking,” Peter said. He, too, was calling from his bedroom. “My mind is spinning in confusion. They’re gone. I can’t believe they’re really gone. I mean, I never really liked them, to tell you the truth; in spite of the good luck of being raised in a rich family, I always found their attitude to me hurtful. Always criticizing my every move, word, and deed. My choice for a degree. I never really felt any affection towards them because of that. I always kind of…well, hated them. And now that they’re gone, I feel kind of guilty.”
“Again, I’m sorry,” she said. “I never saw either of them be affectionate with you, either, so I guess your coolness to them is understandable. Don’t beat yourself up over that. But anyway, I have to ask this: do you finally admit that The Splits is real?”
“Yes,” Peter said with a sigh of embarrassment. “Since I was in the office with my mom and dad when they got killed, I got tested, and I’m not a carrier. And I’m sorry for having been so pig-headed about this whole thing. It’s just that there’s so much bullshit out there in the media, it’s hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.”
“I know,” she said, “but the media didn’t split our parents’ bodies into pieces. It isn’t special effects or gimmickry. Our eyes aren’t the TV. We can trust what we see, and you can trust me to tell you the truth.”
“Yeah, but still,” he said. “There’s something strange about this ‘disease.’ As they say, it isn’t like anything we’ve ever seen before.”
“Split-off body parts acting like entities unto themselves. I know what you mean.”
“They were talking, Michelle. It was so freaky. My mom’s and dad’s body parts were actually talking.”
She felt a shudder at those words, remembering her father’s death. “It seemed that way to me, too. I thought I heard the parts of my dad saying, ‘No, no, no…’.”
“I saw faces forming on my parents’ ripped-off body parts,” Peter said. “What looked like eyes and mouths in their innards, saying, ‘I don’t want it. I don’t want it,’ like pigs grunting.”
“It’s more like demonic possession than a disease.”
“Exactly. And I don’t believe in demons, or God, or anything like that. Still, no disease does anything that freaked out.”
“Anyway, you have been tested, eh?” she asked. “And do you have a protective suit?”
“Yes, as I said before, and…yes,” he said with a sigh of annoyance. “I’m gonna hate wearing it. It’s so uncomfortable.”
“I know, but it’ll be less uncomfortable than feeling your body tearing up into pieces, and nowhere near as traumatic as seeing other people’s bodies tear up into pieces, especially if we’re the ones responsible for passing The Splits onto them.”
“Yeah, I guess. It still sucks, though.”
“But at least we can be together, and since both of us have been tested recently, we can be intimate. When did they test you at MedicinaTech? Earlier today?”
“Oh, I got it done today, but it wasn’t there. People from the hospital, the ones who took my parents’ body parts away, wanted to test me, but I told them I know a doctor in Regent Park, so they let me do it there.”
“Regent Park? Why’d you go to that poor-as-fuck place? Why not in your parents’ business, where they have the best medical equipment and doctors?”
“Because as with the local hospital, I don’t trust the doctors there,” he said. “Dr. Teague, our head scientist, is a carrier, and he infected my mom and dad, though nobody saw it was him, and nobody believed me when I said it was he who passed it on. I think many of the staff are carriers, and trying to keep it all a secret.”
“Yeah. That’s why I doubt that this is just a new virus. There’s a weird, body-snatcher kind of thing going on.”
“Like my mom and her fake smiles,” Michelle said with another shudder.
“Yeah. I’ll tell you another thing. Now that both my parents are dead, I’m supposed to succeed them as head of MedicinaTech, right?”
“Yeah, and what’s going on there?”
“They made Wayne Grey, head of R and D, the new CEO of the company.”
“What? Why him? How could your mom and dad have allowed that?”
“Oh, come on, Michelle. You know why.”
“Because you’d end the company and its rule over Toronto as your very first act as new CEO.”
“Exactly,” Peter said. “I told my mom and dad I’d do that many times. They made a change in their will to prevent that. And this Wayne guy, who’s been with the company since it began, has shown more loyalty to MedicinaTech and its government than even any of the surviving members of the Board of Directors. Mom and Dad would have given it to that Derek Gould guy, the old CFO, but The Splits killed him, remember? And his replacement is too new to be trusted to lead the company and government.”
“I see,” she said. “But why did you get tested in Regent Park? It’s so filthy dirty there. How can you know they did a good job there?”
“I don’t trust rich people. And I know the doctor there personally. He’ll test you without any agenda. He doesn’t buy into any of the older diseases, though he acknowledges The Splits. For me, that’s reliable enough.”
“In fact, I suggest we go over there and rent a room in a hotel there.”
“Eww! Why there?“
“It isn’t all that bad. There are some nice places there. The hotels are nice and cheap, too, and we won’t have to worry about surveillance cameras watching us and penalizing us for not wearing the suits, the way people do even in many rooms of their own homes now. The government doesn’t care about the people in Regent Park, because they’re too poor to do anything against the powerful; they’re not allowed to enter the middle- and upper-class sections of the city, so nobody worries about them spreading any diseases among us.”
“Well, I guess that makes it OK,” she said, still wincing. “If we’re alone and don’t have any of the residents near us.”
“We can wear the protective suits all the way to the hotel room, then when we’re all alone, we can take them off…and everything else. Then we’ll leave with the suits on, we can get tested by my guy again, just in case, then go home.”
“You think it’ll be romantic in Regent Park?” she asked with a sneer.
“I like the poor a lot better than the rich,” he said. “I like to be reminded of how the other side lives. And I think you need to be reminded of their plight every now and then, too.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that,” she said. “I feel a little guilty about my ‘Eww!’ before. I need to be reminded of how lucky we are. When do you want to meet up?”
“How about tonight at around 8:00? I’ll meet you in MedicinaTech. I want to talk to Wayne about the progress they’re making on finding a cure for The Splits. Not that I trust him all that much, but I’m so desperate, I’ll do whatever I have to so we won’t have to wear these suits anymore.”
“OK, I’ll be in the lobby at about 8:00. Bye.”
“See you then,” he said, and they hung up.
At 8:02 that night, Michelle sat in the lobby of MedicinaTech, looking around the crowds of people in those protective suits walking by and looking indistinguishable from each other except by suit colour. Growing impatient as she hoped to see Peter among them, she wondered if she’d see him without a suit on.
Finally, after about ten minutes of waiting, she saw him walking along, chatting with Wayne Grey. Both were in those suits.
It took a while for her to be sure it was Peter approaching, for his suit obscured his face. But when she saw through his head covering (made more difficult because she, of course, also had a head covering to look through), she breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was finally complying with the safety precautions.
She stood and waved at him. “Peter, over here!” she said.
He and Wayne walked up to her.
“Wayne, this is Michelle, my girlfriend,” he said. “Michelle, this is Wayne Grey, MedicinaTech’s new boss.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said with a smile while her gloved hand shook his.
“Nice to meet you, too,” he said with what looked to her like a forced, unnatural smile.
She and Peter exchanged glances of suspicion.
“I just want to say again, Wayne, that it does my heart good to hear you say you want to make some more democratic changes in the government of the city,” Peter said with a fake smile of his own, for he doubted the sincerity of such promises.
Michelle remembered similar promises from her mom, and similar smiles. It was hard to know if any of these promises were genuine.
“Well, don’t get your hopes up too high,” Wayne said. “I won’t be able to make a lot of changes right away, what with the stubbornness of all the members of the Board of Directors and their sympathy with your mom’s and dad’s way of doing things; but I do have a plan or two up my sleeve, ideas of how…to persuade them to see things my way.”
“I see,” Peter said, again exchanging doubtful glances with Michelle. Already I hear ready-made excuses for not keeping his promises, he thought. We’ll see.
“How about we go into that room over there,” Wayne said, pointing to Peter’s right. “Since you’re so concerned about finding a cure for The Splits, there’s a computer in there, and with it I can show you in detail all the progress MedicinaTech is making.”
“OK,” Peter said, and he and Michelle followed Wayne into the room, which was a small meeting room with a computer at the far end of a long table surrounded by chairs.
The three of them sat by the computer: Wayne using it, and Peter and Michelle sat on either side of him.
“I can’t type the keys with these thick gloves on my fingers,” Wayne said. “So I’ll need to take them off. I hope you don’t mind.” He looked at Peter intently, then the same way at Michelle.
Peter and Michelle looked at each other nervously for several seconds of silence.
“I was tested by Dr. Teague this morning,” Wayne tried to reassure them. “I tested negative.”
There was another pause, of five seconds of silence.
Good old, trustworthy Dr. Teague, Peter thought, as did Michelle.
“Have you both been tested?” Wayne asked. “If you keep your suits on, I’ll be safe.”
“Yes, I’ve been tested,” Peter said. “Just today, in fact.”
“I was tested a short while ago, too,” Michelle said. “I’ve been wearing this suit pretty much the whole time since.”
Now Wayne looked at the two of them, his eyes going back and forth from left to right, with some suspicion of his own. Then he took a deep breath and smiled.
“Well, even if you’re lying, I can feel safe as long as you two are both suited up completely,” Wayne said, then he took off his gloves and turned on the computer. “This should take only a minute to get ready.”
When it was ready, he began typing away. As he did, and then found reports and data on the testing of the vaccine MedicinaTech was working on, Peter and Michelle felt their nervousness abate, since no white dots of light were flying from Wayne’s fingers. What’s more, Wayne seemed so caught up in his work that he didn’t look at all nervous about catching anything from the two on either side of him.
It was as if he didn’t care one bit about it.
Now, Peter was feeling an increasing itch to take off his head covering. Actually, Michelle was feeling that way, too, for the suits were just that uncomfortable. And the room, inexplicably, was getting hot.
“As you can see,” Wayne said, pointing to some figures on the computer screen, “we’ve done over a dozen trials with Aziprom, with no outright successes, of course, but with what seem to be some repellent quality that, to a small but notable extent, eases the symptoms. It isn’t ideal, but it is progress.”
“I see,” Peter said, fidgeting and sweating in his suit. How’d it get so hot in here all of a sudden? he wondered. Wayne seems safe and healthy. Nothing’s flying out of his bare hands. If he had The Splits, surely I’d see those tiny stars by now.
“Why is it so hot in here, all of a sudden?” Michelle asked. It was hot like this in the hospital room with Mom and Dad, now that I think of it, she thought.
“You feel hot?” Wayne asked.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Me, too.”
“That’s odd,” Wayne said. “I don’t feel hot at all.”
“Well, you seem safe of The Splits, anyway,” Peter said, putting his hands on his head covering. “I’m taking this off. I can’t take it anymore.” He pulled it off his head.
“Peter, wait!” Michelle yelled. Then, when no little dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands, she calmed down.
Peter put his head covering on the table. Both he and Michelle froze for a moment, looking around for little stars.
Wayne looked at Peter and then at Michelle, sneering at both of them. “I told you,” he said. “I was tested today, and it came out negative. I can see that Peter’s test also turned out negative, which is very gratifying to me. I can trust you; I think you both can trust me. How about it?”
“OK,” Peter said. “Sorry.”
Drops of sweat were running down Michelle’s cheeks.
“Well, if you two can expose your skin, so can I,” she said, then she removed her head covering and put it next to Peter’s. “Oh, that feels so much better.”
Immediately after her sentence, those dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands.
“You lying fucker!” Peter shouted, punching his fist into the plastic face covering on Wayne’s suit, knocking him off his chair and onto the floor. Peter and Michelle reached for their head coverings. They were about to put them on in panicky speed…
…but they noticed something odd about the little lights.
They weren’t entering their heads.
Still with their head coverings off, Peter and Michelle stared at the tiny, glowing stars, which just hovered in the air a few centimetres in front of the vulnerable couple’s faces.
It was as if the little dots of light were staring at Peter and Michelle, observing them, sizing them up.
Their eyes and mouths were wide open; they were shaking all over, but from terror, not from the entry of those floating things.
Wayne got up and removed his head covering. He looked stoically at Peter and Michelle while he rubbed his chin, where Peter’s fist had hit him.
Several more seconds of frozen silence went by.
Those little dots of light just stayed where they were.
“Why aren’t they coming inside us?” she asked. “They don’t even want to make us carriers?”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Why don’t they want to?”
You’re perfectly safe, Peter, a voice said in his head…a voice that sounded like Donna’s.
What? he thought; Mom? No, that can’t be. The stress is making me hear things. He shook his head to snap himself out of it.
“Neither of you have anything to fear from the lights,” Wayne said in perfect calmness.
“You lied to us before,” Peter said. “You’ll lie again. C’mon, Michelle. Let’s get out of here.”
“As you wish,” Wayne said with a shrug.
Peter and Michelle put their head coverings back on, then they ran out of the room and out of the building.
The dots of light flew back into Wayne’s hands and head.
Peter and Michelle hailed a taxicab and got in.
“Take us to the nearest gateway to Regent Park,” Peter said. “And hurry.”
“OK, from here, that’ll be Queen Street East,” said the cabbie. What do they want to go to that dump for? he wondered as he started driving.
“I guess we don’t need to wear these suits,” Peter said to her, “if those little white dots aren’t going to enter our bodies.” He was about to take his head covering off, raising Michelle’s and the cabbie’s eyebrows.
She put out her hand to stop Peter. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions,” she said. “What just happened to us in that meeting room with Wayne Grey may have been a fluke.”
The cabbie let out a sigh of relief that Peter kept his whole suit on.
“What could have caused those things not to have entered us?” Peter asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be foolish or overconfident until we know. We need to find out more about ‘those things’ before we can be sure of what we’re dealing with.”
“I really don’t think we’re dealing with a disease,” he said. “I’d swear those things have some kind of intelligence. It’s as if they knew when to strike, right when we took the head coverings off, and no sooner. They didn’t come off when Wayne took off his gloves, because they seemed to know we weren’t vulnerable yet. I’ll bet they raised the temperature in that room, too, to make us too uncomfortable to keep the head coverings on.”
“Yeah, OK…and then not enter us?” she asked while sneering at him.
“Yeah, I know it doesn’t make much sense, but maybe they have some kind of subtle plan for us that we haven’t figured out yet. Like they wanted to show themselves to us…to toy with us.”
“Here come the conspiracy theories again.”
“Well, do you have a better explanation for what happened back there?”
“No, and that’s why I think we need to err on the side of caution until we know for sure what’s going on.”
“Well, that’s why we’re going to Regent Park.”
“Getting us a hotel room is going to help us know for sure?” she asked with another sneer. “By ‘knowing,’ I don’t mean in the Biblical sense.”
The cabbie smirked in envy at the thought of Peter soon to get it on with his pretty, shapely girlfriend in a hotel room. (The pretty face was clearly seen through the head covering; the shape of her body was something the cabbie imagined in his lecherous mind…and something he would have been pleased to know he’d imagined most correctly.)
“Well, after the hotel, we’ll meet my doctor friend.”
“You think he knows something about this?”
“It’s the only recently discovered ‘disease’ he admits to being real,” Peter said. “And while you’d think he’d have been wearing a protective suit, he wasn’t when he tested me. Maybe he had the same experience we had.”
“You never asked him why he wasn’t wearing one?” she asked.
“Part of me was so glad that he wasn’t succumbing to all this fear that I must have simply forgotten to ask him.”
“OK,” the cabbie said. “Here’s the Queen Street East entrance gate.” He stopped the cab. “Don’t let any of those bums sneak out when you get in, as a favour to all of us.”
Peter paid the fare, and he and Michelle got out.
Peter took a key out of the front right pocket of his protective suit, opened the locked gate, holding Michelle’s gloved hand with his free one, and they went in. By the sidewalks on the way to the hotel, they saw rows of tents of homeless people. All of them were filthy. All of them held out their hands for spare change. None was wearing a suit.
“Take a look around,” Peter said as they rushed past the tents and stepped over the stretched-out legs of beggars lying on the sidewalks with hats and bowls beside them, hoping for spare change. “The rejects of Toronto. I’d love to give them some money, but if you or I drop even just one penny into a hat or bowl, they’ll all be mobbing us for more, and I didn’t bring enough pocket money, rich as my family is, to satisfy all of them at once. I feel like such a dick to deny them, but there’s nothing I can do.”
“Same here,” she said. “I don’t have much on me, either. I wish I could give them something.”
“If you think this is bad, wait another few years, when the world completes the transition to a totally cashless society,” he said. “The homeless will really be fucked then.”
“Oh, that’s awful.”
“Yeah, MedicinaTech all but abandoned this part of Toronto. A piddling amount of government taxes goes into helping the poor here, but as you can see, it’s nowhere near enough. The gates keep them from entering the richer parts of the city; only people here with at least a reasonable income have a key to get in and out, like my doctor friend.”
“Why did he choose to live here?”
“He wants to help the poor by providing either affordable or free health care. Without volunteers like him, if the homeless–note the lack of protective suits for them–ever caught The Splits, or any other disease, real or imagined, they’d be in a pretty hopeless situation.”
“Yeah, I can imagine.”
“Actually, a lot had changed around here over the past ten years, as it has in cities all over the world, as we know. In spite of the continued poverty here, violent crime has gone right down. The MedicinaTech government has sent police in here regularly to patrol the area and clamp down on muggings, gang fighting, and the like. If it hadn’t, I’d never have taken you here.”
They reached the Ritz Hotel.
“Here we are,” he said.
They went in and got a room.
“I guess we can finally take these off,” he said, then slowly took off his head covering.
They paused for a moment.
Their eyes darted around the room for glowing little dots of light.
Several seconds of tense silence.
“I guess we’re safe,” she said, taking off her head covering and looking around cautiously. “The woman at the desk was wearing a suit, and those things only come out from people’s uncovered skin, don’t they?”
“Yeah, and they don’t seem to want to enter us, as you’ll recall,” he said, removing the rest of his suit. “Don’t worry. We should be fine.”
“OK,” she said, still in a cautious attitude. She took off her suit with her eyes always on the alert for the little white lights. Peter was already naked and under the covers. She slowly began unbuttoning her shirt.
“If they were gonna get us, surely they’d have already done so by now. Stop worrying.”
“Well, if I’m gonna die, I want us to die together,” she said, then soon got naked and went under the covers with him.
Michelle was able to get aroused with Peter with surprising speed. Not that there was anything unusually skillful in him as a lover, though she found him most handsome; it was just something about how considerate she found his way of looking at her, of liking what she considered the right things to like. Besides, his gentle, caressing touch could drive her wild within a heartbeat.
She noted with appreciation how, once she was naked, he kept looking at her face. He likes my body, of course, she thought as they wrapped their arms around each other, but he doesn’t focus on it, to make me into an object, the way all the other guys I dated before him used to do. They pecked each other on the lips a few times, getting soft sighs out of her. He always focuses on my face. He got on top of her. Even now, as he’s…Oh!…sticking it in me, he’s looking down into my eyes the whole time. They kissed again. He’s always wanted to connect with me, right from our first date, when he’d ask me to take off my mask so he could see my face. Another kiss. I’ve always appreciated that about him. For all his faults, I’ve always loved him for these reasons.
As they continued making love in the missionary position, they sighed not only with pleasure, but also from the relief of finally being able to enjoy close physical contact.
For too long, he thought as he went in and out of her, kissing her and caressing her cheeks, all of us have been denied closeness. Fear of disease has split us all apart from each other. We can’t truly help each other if we’re apart, not hugging, not touching, not seeing each other’s facial expressions because masks are hiding our smiles and frowns.
She was thinking these very same thoughts.
When they finished, they lay together and cuddled, their arms tightly around each other.
“Oh,” she sighed. “I’d forgotten…how good that feels. Not just getting laid, but…feeling the touch of someone else. I’m glad we took…the chance here. I’m sick of being afraid…and alone.”
“That’s what I…have been trying to get…you to understand,” he sighed. “We need closeness. It’s what makes…us human.”
“You’re right. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” They kissed. “Now, let’s go…and meet my doctor friend.”
They put on their clothes and left.
After walking out of the hotel and down the street in the opposite direction from which they’d come, it didn’t take long before Peter and Michelle found themselves in an area where there was far less poverty. The two saw the occasional homeless person, but not rows of tents of them.
“It’s good to see that not all of Regent Park is as badly off as I’ve heard,” she said.
“Didn’t I tell you that there were some nicer areas?” he said. “I just wish my parents had provided better for the worse-off here.”
After another block of walking, they reached a building with a sign that read, Dr. Phil Gordon’s Clinic, Virus Testing, ENT, and Other Medical Services.
“Here we are,” Peter said. “My doctor friend’s clinic.”
They went in and up the stairs to the second floor, where a sign on the door said the same as the one outside. They went in.
A nurse in a protective suit was at a desk. She looked up from her work and recognized Peter.
“Peter?” she said. “What brings you back here again? You don’t want another test so soon, do you?”
“Yes, both of us do,” he said.
“Wow, you never used to be this worried about viruses,” the nurse said.
“Well, strange things have been happening to both of us lately,” he said. “We really need to talk to Phil.”
“Well, Dr. Gordon should be finished with his patient in there in a few minutes,” the nurse said, gesturing to the examination room to her right. “Why don’t you both have a seat over there?” She now gestured to the seats in the waiting area on the other side of the room, opposite her desk.
“OK,” Peter and Michelle said together, then went over and sat.
She picked up a copy of The Mississauga Exposé. She flipped through the pages and found an article about the difficulties MedicinaTech was having creating an effective vaccine for The Splits.
“Peter, check this out,” she said, showing the story to him.
“Oh, of course,” he said. “And we both know why they’re having those difficulties, don’t we?”
A man in a protective suit walked out of the examination room. As he left the clinic, the doctor–with the examination room door still half-way open–recognized Peter.
“Hey, Peter,” he said. “Welcome back. Come on in.”
Peter and Michelle got up and approached Dr. Gordon.
“He still isn’t wearing one of these suits,” Peter said.
“Yeah,” she said, shaking a little.
They all went into the examination room, and Gordon closed the door behind them. “So, what brings you back here?”
“Well, for one thing, I’ve been meaning to ask you, Phil,” Peter said, “why you never wear a protective suit, like everyone else.”
“Well, I have to wear one outside of Regent Park, because out there everyone’s paranoid about The Splits, not so much here, and I don’t wanna worry them over there, or make waves.”
“But why don’t you wear one here, too?” Michelle asked. “Your nurse is wearing one. Your last patient has one on, too.”
“Because I know, for a fact,” Doctor Gordon said, “that I’m never going to be ‘infected’ with The Splits.”
“How do you know that?” Peter asked, his eyes and mouth wide open.
“You know how, whenever people are known to be afflicted with The Splits, they first see a swarm of little, glowing balls of white light entering them?” the doctor said.
“Yeah,” Peter and Michelle said together, anticipating Gordon’s next words.
“Those things never enter my body,” he said with perfect self-assurance. “And I’ve seen them hover inches before my uncovered face too many times to count. I’ve tested myself every time after, too, just to be sure. All negative. I’m not even a symptomless carrier, like Hannah Gould.”
Peter’s and Michelle’s jaws dropped.
“There’s a kind of confession on your faces that you’ve had a similar experience, I’ll wager,” the doctor said, “or you’ve known others who’ve had that experience.”
“Actually, that just happened to both of us a few hours ago,” Michelle said.
“The little stars flew out of a carrier,” Gordon said, “one who had at least part of his body exposed, and instead of entering your bodies, they just floated in front of you both, as if they were checking you out to see if you were friends or foes?”
“Yeah, that’s how it seemed, anyway,” she said.
“That happened to me, and to a number of other people who’ve come here, too,” the doctor said. “I’d say you needn’t ever fear The Splits.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Based on all the observations I’ve made of this ‘Splits’ phenomenon, there seem to be about four different reactions to those little glowing things: death, as happened to both your parents, Peter, I’m sorry to hear; second, a struggle with those things, leading either to death, or survival and becoming a carrier, this latter which seems to have happened to Siobhan Buchanan, head of the Mississauga Exposé and the district–“
“That’s my mother, by the way,” Michelle said.
“Oh, you’re Michelle Buchanan,” Gordon said, putting out his hand to shake hers. “I read about your family in the papers. Sorry for the loss of your father. I trust your mom’s doing OK now?”
“Thanks,” she said, shaking his hand. “I guess so, though she acts strangely.”
“That’s the result of being a carrier,” the doctor said. “It changes you. And hey, Peter, why didn’t you introduce me to her? She’s your girlfriend, right? You talk about her enough when you come to see me.”
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for you to introduce me,” she said to Peter, glaring at him. “Where are your manners?”
“Sorry,” he said in embarrassment. “Phil, Michelle; Michelle, Phil. I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
“He’s a little uncouth,” she said to the doctor while giving Peter a hug. “But I love him all the same.”
“Anyway,” Peter said, “what are the other two reactions?”
“The third reaction is what happened to Hannah Gould,” the doctor said.
“The wife of Derek Gould, MedicinaTech’s old CFO,” Peter said.
“Yes, he was the first victim, you know that,” the doctor said. “Hannah actually came here a week after the attack. After being in quarantine for a few days, they suited her up with a protective suit. She came here to talk to me about this supposedly medical issue. The little white lights enter you and only slightly change you, as happened to her–you feel a warm, vibrating feeling, and you’re a carrier. And the last reaction is nothing at all–no entry of the body, or what happened to us.”
“Why do you think there are these different reactions?” Peter asked. “Why do those things kill some, fuck other people up for a while, live in people’s bodies without harming them, or don’t touch us at all?”
“Well, when Hannah visited me, she took off her head covering and let those little stars fly out at me, though they did not enter me (my first experience of that, by the way). She said, ‘Their harming or not harming you depends on how sympathetic you are to the cause’.”
“Sympathetic?” Peter and Michelle said together with sneers.
“The ’cause’?” Michelle asked.
“When I dealt with patients who had The Splits, and their bodies were ripping apart, closing back together, and ripping apart again, there was a sense that they weren’t accepting what was going on inside themselves,” the doctor said. “Their bodies were rejecting those little glowing things, and that’s what was making their bodies tear apart.”
“And if the patient got better, he became a carrier, and had that changed, emotionless personality,” Peter began.
“Or personality with fake emotions,” Michelle added, thinking sadly about her mother.
“That all means they came to accept ‘the cause,’ whatever the fuck that is?” Peter asked.
“That’s how it has looked to me, every time I’ve seen it,” Gordon said. “And if they totally rejected those things, they ripped up into pieces and died. But the more accepting of them that a person is, the less they will bother him.”
“So they aren’t bothering us at all because we totally sympathize with whatever they want to do?” Peter asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“It seems that way,” the doctor said. “I can’t know for sure, but that’s the way it looks.”
“Well, I fail to see how I ‘sympathize’ with the killing of my father,” she said angrily.
“Or how I can ‘sympathize’ with the killing of both of my parents,” Peter said with even more anger. Even though I never really liked either of them, he thought.
“Hey, I don’t sympathize with any of the killings I’ve seen,” Gordon said. “Those things seem to go after powerful, influential people, not the powerless, hence we don’t see the homeless here with The Splits. Now, I don’t like the powerful any more than you do, Peter, but as a doctor, I don’t want to see the rich and powerful die any more than I want the powerless to die.”
“They attack only the powerful,” Peter mused. “This is no disease, is it, Phil?” he asked with fear in his eyes.
“Nope,” the doctor said, shaking his head in all self-assurance.
“Do you have any idea where those things came from?” Peter asked.
“When I talked to Hannah, she said she and Derek saw them flying down to them…from the night sky,” the doctor said, then heaved a sigh.
There was a moment of tense silence among them.
“You mean,” Peter said in a trembling voice, “that those things are from…?”
“Outer space?” Michelle said.
“Hey, you said that, not me,” Gordon said. “Hannah told me that the less we know, the better.”
“And you trust her?” Peter asked. “I’ll bet she knows, but is hiding valuable information.”
“I don’t know who to trust,” the doctor said. “But I do know how not to rock the boat. In any case, if you’re uncomfortable wearing those suits, I’d say you can take them off.”
Peter looked at Gordon askance and asked, with a sneer, “Why should we take them off?”
“Hey, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” the doctor said.
“Oh, I want to,” Peter said, “but…”
“Then take your suit off,” Gordon said.
“Do you want us to?” Michelle asked with a sneer.
“I don’t care either way,” the doctor said, noting the suspicion in their eyes and waving his hands to assure them that he had no hidden agenda. “Do whatever you want.”
Peter and Michelle just stood there, motionless and eyeing him carefully.
“Those things didn’t attack you before,” the doctor said. “Even if I’m a carrier and lying to you, I assure you, they won’t attack you now.”
He isn’t showing any of the carriers’ shallow emotion, Peter thought.
He isn’t showing the fake, awkward smiles my mother shows, Michelle thought. And the room isn’t getting uncomfortably hot.
Peter and Michelle looked at each other, then back at Dr. Gordon.
They ever so slowly took off their head coverings, ready for anything, ready to pop them right back on at the slightest sign of danger.
Then they ever so slowly unzipped their body suits, never taking their eyes off the doctor.
The suits came completely off.
Peter and Michelle breathed a sigh of relief.
“I told you you were safe,” the doctor said. “Do you think you can trust me now?”
“OK,” Peter said.
“Sorry,” Michelle said.
“Look, I have no idea what those things want,” the doctor said. “But I have reason to believe that they don’t think of the three of us as enemies. I have no idea why, but we’re not their enemies, or so they think.”
“I’d say they’re wrong about that,” Michelle said with a frown. “They killed my dad.”
“I’d say they’re wrong, too,” Peter said. “I lost both parents because of them. I may not agree with my parents’ politics, and I never got along with them, but that doesn’t mean I wanted them dead. I was really shaken up when I saw those bastards kill them so violently right before my eyes. Those little lights have got a big-ass enemy in me.”
Just when he finished his sentence, the glowing little dots flew into the room from an open window.
Peter and Michelle gasped. The doctor stayed cool.
The little lights just hovered before the faces of all three of them.
Peter and Michelle froze. Dr. Gordon leaned comfortably against his desk.
“You killed my father,” Michelle said with tears in her eyes. “I’m not your friend. Kill me now.”
“You killed my parents,” Peter said with gritted teeth. “I’m not your friend, either. Kill me now.”
The little dots just stayed there, hovering inches before them.
“Kill me now!” Peter yelled.
“Kill me now!” Michelle screamed.
They don’t want to kill either of you, Michelle, a familiar voice said in Michelle’s head.
Dad? she wondered, then paused to listen for more. No, it couldn’t be. I’m hearing things; it’s the stress. She focused on the lights again.
After a few more tense seconds of hovering, the lights flew out of the window.
Peter and Michelle were still shaking a minute or two after.
“Now what?” Peter asked Dr. Gordon.
“I guess they don’t want to kill you,” the doctor said with a shrug.
“They have a plan for us, or something?” Michelle asked.
“Who knows?” Gordon said with another shrug. “I guess you won’t be needing a virus test, will you?”
“No, I guess not,” Peter said.
One thought kept swimming around in Michelle’s mind: If my mom isn’t the carrier of a disease, but is possessed of an alien intelligence, how am I going to deal with that?