And we’re back to The End of Our Days. I wouldn’t be bemoaning this so much if we didn’t have three chapters of Frannie telling her whole family that she’s pregnant and that she doesn’t know if she’s going to keep the baby. Three chapters of her waffling back and forth on this. And unlike with Larry and Stu, who get their backstories told and we get a good idea of who they are, I don’t really know who Frannie is. She’s a daddy’s girl who doesn’t like phonies. That’s it. I don’t know her history with her ex, Jesse; I don’t know what she likes, or what she studied in college; all I know about her is that she’s pregnant and she may have to make a decision about the baby.
Shut up, Frannie.
I don’t get sick a lot. Once every few flu seasons, my immune system decides to go “Oh for fuck’s sake,” and I spend a day or two huddled in bed, surfacing every few hours to knock back medicine and ginger ale. And while I don’t succumb to complete feverish delirium, there’s still moments when I wake up in a daze stupor thinking “Where the hell am I?”
This is how Chapter Seven begins.
Sixty pages in, and we have our first real character death. Yes, there’s Campion and his family and the other people at the lab, but we’ve had two other chapters with Vic so far! And spliced with Vic’s delirium about him growing up with his brother and his mom being shut away for tuberculosis, we do learn what happened after the government found out about Campion. The whole town of Arnette’s been quarantined, and everyone shipped to a hospital in Atlanta. And it’s not just Vic coming down with something—it’s everyone.
For Vic Palfrey, magic hour was over.
Smash cut to Stu, the only person who’s not sick and giving the doctors a hard time about it. To be fair, I do sympathize with him not wanting to deal with the bullshit, given his history with his wife’s cancer. (On the other hand, I’m thinking “What idiots,” but given the taboo on cancer in the seventies…it’s very complicated.) Stu knows that something’s definitely up, given the whole cloak-and-dagger operation to get everyone else out of Arnette.
And this is where we find out the bone-chilling speed of how fast the virus moves. There’s some indication that it moves quickly in the opening chapters, but then we get this:
The army driver had let out three sudden bellowing sneezes. Probably just coincidence. June was a bad time in east-central Texas for people with allergies. Or maybe the driver was just coming down with a common, garden-variety cold instead of the weird shit the rest of them had. Stu wanted to believe that. Because something that could jump from one person to another that quickly…
That is the reason why I stock up on the medicine and barricade myself in my room the moment I know my mom or brother’s sick. (Or any other family member, but it’s normally those two.)
What’s also scary here is that the government’s willing to provide for everyone who’s quarantined…so long as no one asks questions. Stu is not going to cooperate. They send him an obvious pencil pusher to shut him up, and really, how much fail is this on the government’s expense? Sure, on the way to the hospital, wine and dine the infectees to make them happy, but not the one guy who’s clearly refusing to do anything? I know Project Blue is top secret, but they can’t make some bullshit excuse of what’s going on? Say that the virus is Venusian swamp gas. That ought to work.
Under the California desert and subsidized by the taxpayers’ money, someone had finally invented a chain letter that really worked. A very lethal chain letter.
In a lot of the apocalyptic novels that I’ve read (post or otherwise), there’s never really an exploration of how everything goes to shit. There’s some cataclysmic event, but we don’t really see things spreading, and how we get to from the status quo to Well, We’re Fucked. The only other two I can think of at the moment are Stephen King’s Cell and Max Brooks’s World War Z…and even both of those don’t get into full detail how one thing leads to another. The characters can really only speculate on what might have happened. (Also, if you haven’t read World War Z, omg go read it now, it’s fantastic. Don’t wait for the movie. One of the best zombie apocalypse books I’ve ever read.)
Chapter Eight is one of the chapters that absolutely fascinates me. There have been days that I’ll just randomly pick up a copy of The Stand at work, and just read pieces at random, and this is the first one I go to. Because it’s not about our survivors. I could just label everyone who shows up in this chapter as mere redshirts, but it never feels like that.
We get to know these people. They’re normal people. This is what King does, he knows that you know someone like the people in here. Maybe you are one of the people who could be described here. And they’re going to die. There’s no medicine or treatment that can help them, it’s all due to genetics.
And what’s terrifying is that we’re not seeing every single person who’s getting infected. But we know that it’s a lot more than the handful of people we’re following in a straight line.
Look at memes. Yes, we know where one meme can start, but where does it begin to expand? I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually seen the original Double Rainbow video. (I hear it’s beautiful.) But I know about it because everyone on the internet was mentioning it. And how long until something goes all the way around to being unfunny? The shelf life of the internet’s only a few weeks. The “Call Me Maybe” videos that are going around right now, how longer are those going to go around? My grandmother is one of the last people on the whole Internet who still does chain letters. And I’ll sit here and roll my eyes and delete them (yes, I’m a horrible granddaughter). But she’s still sending them on.
The connection to all of this is, that while we know where something can start, we can’t really pinpoint how it spreads. We can follow one line of connections, but we don’t know where the specifics branch off and how point A becomes point J. And that’s the beautiful thing about this chapter. It’s such a horrifying notion that everyone’s unknowingly infecting each other, but when I sit here and think about, how many people do I expose my personal jokes and opinions (and okay, germs) to on a daily basis?
There’s no bombs. No explosions, no mass injections. It’s just society killing itself by being sociable.