I never thought I’d miss the lights of human civilization. Back when I was young, everything was so bright you couldn’t even see the stars. Petty little humans trying to outdo a force far greater than themselves, typical. But who am I to judge? I’m just as human as anyone else.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. It never happened, just a memory. We’ve learned to move on. How many hurricanes can you sit through and watch until tragedy doesn’t affect you anymore? I was spoon-fed disaster after disaster so that, even though I understand the loss of human life, I am numb to it.
That was, until, disaster slapped us in the face. It happened gradually, with ever so slight increases in sea temperatures, to storms for years, until the tipping point. We were struck by an earthquake, no warning, no precautions. Those who were fortunate enough to remain on the mainland were rattled and then went on their lives as jaded little zombies. We, on the other hand, got the bad end of the deal. But, hey, someone has to lose.
For years we’ve been on this hunk of ice. We’ve had communications with the mainland; they send out food and resources. But apparently, there’s some legal issue as to why we can’t just join the mainland again. Dad says that they don’t want to invest their money in only a handful of people compared to the entire world that needs help. Makes sense. Rational. People are thinking much more rationally now. I mean, you have to now; it’s the end of days, or so they say.
It’s morning, dark and cold as any other time of day, just with a sense of newness that soon grows stale. Begrudgingly, I slump out of bed, out of the warmth, and grab some breakfast: a protein bar and fruit preserves. It was a good day to have something that at some point in its life came from the earth. I turn the radio on and listen to the daily report.
…It’s been four days since the first case of this new disease. Parker Cottle, the seven year-old who contracted the virus, is in intensive care and the disease is currently being contained. No news yet from the mainland as Fester Titchlin, environmental advocate and scientist. It’s been three weeks since he has made the trek to the mainland for the national caucus of Arctic Climate Change…
After we separated, the news has been basically the same for the longest time, except for the occasional famine here or there. It doesn’t matter; it’s not here. What’s important is what happens to us. Since the disease’s debut, it’s all anyone can talk about. It’s been dormant for millions of years. We don’t have anyone who knew how to deal with this, and everyone who does lives on the mainland and doesn’t give a shit about us. Even before the virus, we knew that we were alone. That’s why dad went over. If anyone can do anything about this, it’d be him. He knows how to get help.
The door creaks open and a crisp gust of wind floods the room. It’s Syndra, my younger sister, back from the market to get our daily rations: food, soap, batteries. When I was her age, dad would never let me go out and roam by myself. I guess when shit hits the fan, everyone has to take responsibility. Unfair, but what isn’t?
She puts away the groceries and sits down next to me, taking a nibble of my protein bar, but only a small one because even a child knows about sharing.
“Any news?” She grabs the radio but doesn’t turn it on to save batteries.
“Nothing new. That kid Oliver’s probably going to die. Hopefully it doesn’t spread.”
“It probably will.” And then Syndra giggles, just like we always used to giggle about depressing topics. The only way to cope with the end of the world is with humor; that’s what you learn.
“We need to go to work.” I say.
“I started this morning. I didn’t want to wake you up.” That’s nice, but not effective. It’s time to be productive, so I bundle up in my layers and brace for the cold. No matter how long I lived in the Arctic, I will never get used to that moment when you open the hatch that separates the inside and the out. I seem to be the only one facing this issue because no one else minds the cold.
There’s not a lot of positivity in living on a piece of ice in the apocalypse. But, I’d rather live here than how they did when they got us into this problem in the first place. Everyone on the sheet realized when we separated that we had to work together to survive. I don’t think the mainlanders get it, and they call us the stupid ones, floating away into oblivion.
Informally, there are factions of workers to fish, sew, care for children, care for the sick, care for the island. Kids and fish are smelly, so I sew. There aren’t many animals to skin, so textiles are key for survival. Syndra helps care of the children. They’re barely younger than her and yet I see that gleam in their eyes when a kid finds someone they want to emulate.
We march to our places of business, but it’s on the other side of the island, so we have to weave through every goddamn citizen here. Living with a confined group of people, you really get to know which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Back on the mainland, I hated almost everyone, maybe that’s because I was young and angsty. Here, everyone seems to be on the same page. Disasters bring us together in some weird way, even though no one wants to admit that we’re currently in a disaster. We just work to survive in a world that’s not dying, sure.
Right before we make it to our stations, a shrill shriek sounds from the hut that we just passed. We make brief eye contact before entering the home. It looks like any other home apart from a contained fire, which is a big no-no in our community because of the new conservation laws. There’s a woman crying, hyperventilating, while another girl, my age, seizes on the floor. There are red lesions all over her, oozing, gross and is it my fault I don’t want to touch her?
Syndra doesn’t hesitate. She tells me to calm the mother as she picks up the girl. They hobble off to the infirmary, leaving me alone with this blubbering woman. We remain in silence and I don’t know how to comfort her. Am I supposed to say it’s the virus and that she’ll probably die? Because I know that won’t help. She already knows.
I follow her to the infirmary because I feel like I have to. Once there, I realize in all my jaded opinions that there is a real problem. The boy’s dead body is limp on a mat and the girl is next to him. There’s another sickly young man, who’s throwing up, not yet at the lesion stage. Those working flutter around nervously trying to alleviate as much pain as possible, but it’s clear that we just don’t have enough supplies to help them.One of the nurses catchs me staring. I expect her to kick me out, but she says, “It’s spreading,” and gives me a somber smile.
“How fast?” I ask after a while.
“Too late, probably.”
I chew on her answer and try to forget. But I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m tired and I almost fall asleep, but Syndra comes to the hut, interrupting all of us just to get me. I’m irritated, and when we’re outside, I’m ready to give it to her until she gives me an envelope. It’s unopened.
Dad said he’d write back as soon as he got to the mainland, but it’s been weeks since he left and I haven’t heard from him. I know he’s busy advocating for us. Before the break, we moved to the arctic so he could study ice formations and after the break, he worked to help our little island. Me, I gave up. But he never did.
I pocket the letter and when Syndra tries to object, I pull the older sister card and go back to work. My sister’ss hurt, sure, but I’m thinking about our community. At least that’s how I try to justify it.
“Go back to work.” I say rather coldly.
“I want to read it too. We both should know what’s happening.”
“I’ll tell you later, now go to work.” She stares at me until the door closes and our worlds are separated into different temperatures.
Separated for good.
The virus spread too quickly.
After Syndra died I read the letter.
I want to start by saying that I am so proud of you and your sister. I know it’s been hard since I’ve been away and I’m sure my silence hasn’t been helping. I’ve been very busy doing good important work, trying to get back to you guys. There are things that I want you to know. You have the power to choose whether to tell Syndra; I’ll leave that up to you.
I heard about the virus and brought it up to the caucus. It seems to not be a concern at the moment, but I presented my hypothesis for the future. Our permafrost layer of ice has melted, releasing microbes, bacteria, and as you can guess, viruses trapped from within. We abused our world. Now our world is fighting back. I’ve been analyzing the disease and it looks loosely related to Anthrax. It’s rare and symptoms don’t show until weeks after contraction.
What I’m going to say next is hard, but I know you will digest it well. Our island has been quarantined in order to prevent spreading. I know and you know that there is no stopping this, but those in charge don’t seem to care that much about us little guys. I will try and work as hard as I can to get back to you, but until then, I need to stay here. There is work here that needs to be done and I can help. I’ll see you again, I promise.
I love you forever,