It was so difficult to see Mommy and Daddy leaving again. He was in
a new neighborhood, his folks had moved here just before all those
people got sick. The kids at school all had their own little gangs,
and he was not able to enter into their doings. Then everyone
seemed to get sick, and school closed. His parents were fine, as
he was, but they seemed awful scared. They taught him his schoolwork
at home for awhile, then they spent most of their time getting food
and stuff. But he liked that, it was like a big summer vacation,
even when the lights kept going out for a day or two it was like
big camping trips. Mommy and Daddy tried hard to keep him from being
afraid, saying everything would be alright. Still, there were times
when they seemed to hint that things were not alright, like the
time he overheard Daddy grumbling about burning the houses before
the people were even dead, or the time Mommy snapped at him for asking
why those machines were digging big ditches and what was in those
big plastic bags piled up next to them. Now Mommy and Daddy were
always off to work...they said that the government made them work
so much because they had to put things back together. In a few
weeks, school would be starting again, they said, and everybody
would be in a new class, so maybe he would be able to fit in
this time. But why would everybody be put into new classes?
Sally arrived a little late, and his folks bawled her out, saying
that they could not leave him alone and they would get in trouble
if they were late. Then they left and he was alone on the porch
"Hi, Tony. I'm going to be your babysitter today."
"I'm not a baby! I'm ten years old!"
"Of course you're not a *baby* anymore, but you are still only
a little boy, and there are still a lot of bad people around who
might want to hurt a little boy. The state government is cracking
down on them, but it will be a while before things are completely
settled down again. You wouldn't want anything bad to happen to
to you, would you?"
"What could happen?"
"Tony, a lot of people have died recently. A lot more people have
been very sick, and some of them are still getting sick. I was very
sick myself when this all started, about six months ago. I would
have died if it had been a few weeks later, when things started
getting real bad. And a lot of people did some very bad things
when things did get so bad. That's why I have to be ready to use
a gun, if necessary, to protect you."
"You have a gun? Cool! Can I see it?"
"Not even in your dreams. Tony, do you have any idea what's been
happening? Your folks said they tried to protect you, and that I
should not upset you, but I am not sure this is a good idea.
You are going back to school next month, and you are going to be
with a lot of kids who have lost their parents, brothers, sisters..."
"Are you going back to school, Sally?"
"Yeah, I'll get to finish up my Senior year a little late. I was
looking forward to graduating with my best friends, Amy and Rose.
We'd been together ever since first grade...people used to call
us the Powerpuff Girls. Now I won't be able to graduate with them."
"Why not, Sally?"
"They died. They died of the Superflu, Tony."
"Oh. Is it really from Mars, like the radio said?"
"I guess so. We did send a probe to get soil samples from Mars
just before 'Captain Trips' appeared, so maybe it is a disease
from Mars. Not bad enough that things are so messed up here,
we have to go to another planet to make it worse."
"I never got sick. Neither did Mommy or Daddy."
"Then you're very lucky. This one was worse than the Black Death.
It decimated America, and there are whole regions of the world
where cities and government just disappeared...India, China, Africa,
Latin America, Russia..."
"Maybe the people on Mars have a shot for it..."
"Tony, there are no people on Mars. There are just germs
waiting to kill anyone who goes there. We better keep our noses
out of the rest of the universe and mind our own business here
"It's not so bad...I don't like it when TV is off, but that
doesn't happen so often anymore, and..."
"Tony, there are thousands of children your age who are still
surviving by eating garbage and sleeping in ruined buildings,
because there are no parents to take care of them. There may be
millions around the world, although since half the world doesn't even
have electricity anymore, much less government statistics or
news services, that's anybody's guess. This is the biggest
wallop since the fall of Rome, and if you don't understand that,
you could have a very hard time when you get back out into
"But Sally, what..."
"Look, people are committing suicide every day. Two blocks
from here, there was a body hanging from a lamppost with a
sign around its neck saying 'looter'. Just in front of my home.
That's the first thing I saw when I got out of the house after
being sick, someone who stole from the grocery across the street.
There were riots that made some cities into warzones and battlefields.
People couldn't go anywhere, if you tried you would be shot by
the locals. There was a meltdown in a reactor less than 100 miles
from here because it was simply left unattended. You've been
getting so much food because your folks are so important to
the recovery effort...my folks are friends of the Governor,
so I've been getting enough to eat, too. But a lot of people don't,
Tony looked at Sally, and was startled to see her eyes bug out.
Even as he watched, she began to shrink like a deflating balloon.
Her dress became a loose envelope, as her face sprouted brown fur.
She disappeared into her clothes, which churned and heaved, and
settled down and...a squirrel broke free of the clothes and
raced off, across the street and into a line of trees on the other
side as Tony watched, jaw hanging weakly down.
"Isn't there anything we can do? Our boy does not lie, and
we are working hard to rebuild America...don't we have some rights?
After all, the state is not Black anymore.
"Yes, but it is one of the three states which are still Status Red.
If we were Green or even Yellow, it would be different, but at Red
status the governor can have even a 10 year old summarily executed.
And Miss Akron's parents have long been friends of the governor."
"But Mr. Howe, he didn't do anything! Miss Akron probably just
ran away. Why should Tony be put to death for her irresponsibility?"
"Because he's obviously covering up for her, or for someone!
'Our boy does not lie'...are you crazy!? He claims that she turned
into a squirrel, for Pete's sake! He must have read something
in the Weekly World News and decided to use it as a cover story.
That is something that should be censored, not the respectable papers.
Running stories about a policeman turning into an aardvark, for
cryin' out loud!"
"What are you going to do!? You're a lawyer, you're supposed
to help us! Do something! And we DON'T allow him to read such junk!"
"What? As long as Tony sticks with this fairy tale, I don't have
a prayer! THAT'S why Governor Smith is so convinced Tony has
something to do with Miss Akron's disappearance! Convince him to
tell the truth, or he's history!"
The three went back into the office where a miserable Tony waited.
"Mommy, Daddy, I'm telling the truth. I really am. She turned into
a squirrel and ran away. She did, she did, she did!"
"Tony, please, this is very important. Your parents won't be able
to help you if you keep lying like this. There is a man down the
hall, waiting with a needle to stick in your arm and you will
simply die. That is what we are talking about! Stop lying and tell
us what happened to Sally."
"We were talking and she changed into a squirrel and ran away!
Why won't you believe me? I saw her become a squirrel. I won't lie
just cause you tell me to!"
"Tony, dear, your Daddy and I love you. Why are you telling
such a crazy fib? What happened to Sally? Why won't you tell us?
Don't you love us? Don't you realize how much trouble you're in?"
She was sobbing as she spoke.
"Tony, this is very serious. Your mother and I have tried to
keep you from all the terrible things that have been happening
since the Flu broke out. But you have to understand that you can't
get away with things like this! We almost had a war because of
rumors that the Flu was germ warfare, a war which would have finished
the world off completely, forever. That is how dangerous telling
stories can be, if you don't tell the truth. If you keep on with
this charade, Tony, these men are going to kill you!
Don't you understand!?"
Tony was weeping. "I'm not lying. I'm not lying. I'm not lying."
"I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Morse...if Tony refuses to cooperate,
there's nothing I can do. The order for his execution will be
carried out...NOW! The governor is still a de facto military
dictator, and he has made it clear that if Tony does not come
clean, then he dies. In a matter of days, Washington should upgrade
the state to Status Yellow, but it will be too late to help Tony.
He has to tell us what happened."
"I DID TELL YOU!! I DID!!"
The officers came into the office and took Tony out, down the
hall and to the little white room that was to be the last thing
he would ever see. All the time, every foot of the way, Tony
kept crying "IT IS THE TRUTH!" until they put the needle into
his arm and silenced him forever.
DRIZZLE DRAZZLE DRUZZLE DROME
TIME FOR THIS ONE TO COME HOME