Now I’m supposed to present a climactic yarn about my heroic escape from the virulent clutches of the cytokine storm troopers. I’ll disappoint my publisher by sticking to the facts.
I was never heroic. The heroes are the people who stayed and fought for freedom as hard as they fought the flu. I ran.
I’m still running.
Nor was my first escape as exciting as reports would have it. How to convey the thrills of unending smelly claustrophobia?
We couldn’t leave the car. Anna was sick and we were on the run in Upstate New York, surrounded by a government gone mad on the limitless power it drew from its failures.
Day after day, I gorged on granola and dried fruit, peeing into rice milk containers like an environmentalist trucker, grabbing naps in swamps and post-industrial wastelands while she kept watch. I was a Boy Scout on the run, all my pandemic prep reduced to bleary panic.
I had tried so hard to be a good New Yorker, to body surf this crashing wave of natural history, and then to rise up through the human chaos that ensued. To triumph, American-style.
I wound up as another black-and-white movie gangster squinting into the early light for patrol cars, hallucinating mugs of fresh coffee and starting to mutter prayers I thought I’d forgotten.
You should know that the final blog entries were a fraud. I used my posts to confuse the Feds as to our whereabouts. I apologize (yet again) to my loyal readers for using you, but the stakes were sharp and high. I’m not really sorry, but I apologize. I meant well.
A lot of people started following the chase online. Other bloggers discussed it. We were unofficial news. A Blogula support committee sprang up in the Netherlands.
Then, nothing: Niets.
I never intended to leave everyone hanging. I endangered some wonderful friends routing two further entries through a maze of emails and bulletin boards to be posted by someone who was living in a country immune to Washington’s charms. The posts would have reassured my readers that we had made it to wherever we were going.
The Feds didn’t want to read that, let alone see you reading it. They shut down my blog.
Naming No Names
Here, then, is an expurgated version of how we flew the coop. I have to skip over details that might give away the identities and methods of folks who helped us. The Feds remain hungry to know them. In trying to negotiate my return to the U.S., I have refused to implicate anyone. I’d rather spend the rest of my years underground—die in obscurity as the world’s longest-running flugitive—than betray anyone who helped. Some kind souls barely knew us.
Okay: Back in my apartment, with Anna consigned to die in Brandeis High School, I spent hours planning and assembling the elements of our flight. These included what I hoped was genuine Relenza; phony identification; a laptop; an old car (it was no gas guzzler, another lie); road maps; and backup supplies in case the bungalow was inhospitable.
Not least, I needed a gutsy accomplice to spirit us away from the high school in a borrowed car with artfully obscured plates. We drove directly upstate in the car I’d obtained while that noble soul piggybacked on someone else’s friend’s neighbor’s wireless account to post the decoy blog item about us resting overnight in New York.
I owe that brave spirit two lives every day. I’ve determined that he was locked up for helping us, and that he died of H5N1 in jail a month later. So I can thank ‘Bruno,’ the finest punk who ever lived and drummed and died struggling for a better world. He’d have made a great brother. Briefly, he did.
When our respite at the bungalow ended, I drove hundreds of miles out of our way while Anna relapsed. I accessed a stranger’s wireless modem near the cooling towers of Three Mile Island in south-central Pennsylvania to post the account of our latest flight. I wanted the Feds to think we were chasing the sun—and Vitamin D—southward, toward my home state of Missouri. Or perhaps Mexico.
Around now I wish to apologize to anyone whose door may have gotten kicked in as a result of one of the wireless-tapping exploits involved in my escape. I’m truly sorry. If they ever legalize me, I’ll honor bills for the repairs.
A day later, Anna was still weak. The car was stuffy with perspiration amid the high heat I needed to maintain for her. I remember hearing radio announcements saying that certain people under 40 could start turning up at selected hospitals for vaccination, so long as they had proper ID. No illegal immigrants or dissidents on the run. It was like being barred from celebrating Thanksgiving.
I found it tough to stay alert on the back roads and we had a long way to go to reach a place the Feds would expect me to shun because of my libertarian leanings: Canada. I’d begun to look into fleeing northward as soon as I emerged from that glowing box at DHS. To paraphrase Dylan, I didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing out of DC.
Exhausted and impatient, I took a chance and veered onto the New York State Thruway, America’s longest interstate highway. I made great time for a while. Anna and I spoke eagerly about our prospects up north; being with her made me feel that anything was possible, even something good. When she fell asleep, I was happy to see her resting like a kid—tired of the road, hoping we’d be there when she woke up.
Instead I woke up in the worst way—with a siren in my ears, flashing lights in my mirror, and a wheel in my hands. I wasn’t so much speeding as drifting drowsily from lane to lane ahead of a state trooper who was shocking some respect into me.
Anna didn’t wake up as I pulled over, a good thing. I needed to play the old bloody blanket trick, and her lolling head, greasy hair, and shiny chin helped it look convincing. I slipped a soiled paper mask onto my face. I’d kept it under my chin for fill-ups.
I handed a tall, gray-haired, Hollywood-looking cop my forged papers and humbly apologized for having nodded off at the wheel. I explained with tired desperation and cottony tongue that my wife was sick with flu. I was taking her to a hospital in Buffalo I’d heard was treating folks. I hoped he wouldn’t ask where such a place might be, that he’d withdraw in horror and leave us to our fates. We must have smelled like death on wheels.
A rustle caused us both to turn to my passenger. Behind her seatbelt, Anna had slipped so that her head lolled forward, tongue drooping. It was disgusting and completely unnecessary. Genuinely alarmed, I turned to the cop.
He stunned me with a compassionate look and the news that we’d be welcome at a hospital less than 15 miles away. He offered to call for an ambulance or at least a car to get us there, but I pleaded to be allowed to drive there, keep our things intact. He pulled out a cell phone and notified the hospital that we’d be arriving, then wrote directions for me. He even followed us to the toll turnoff to make sure I was capable of driving safely. We exchanged honks as I turned to exit. The last American cop I met was the best—no kind of storm trooper. (I hoped he’d never find out who we were, lest he regret being so generous, though I doubt he’d mind so much by now.)
I worried that the officer would report us when we failed to show up at the hospital. Soon I was sneaking into farmyards to look for active license plates I could attach to our car. I snatched some from a sedan mounted on blocks. Twenty-four hours later, Anna was rebounding as we hid with some people I’d been told could smuggle us over the border.
That night, I arranged for a friend to post something via a wireless hit somewhere around Missouri. The next day’s entry was similarly jacked up nearby, maybe in Arkansas.
The last post was a farewell tip of the mask to DHS, whose FEMA had done so little to save New Orleans. I had reckoned back in New York that the Feds would get a kick from a doomed whimper out of the Crescent City.
I wish I could explain how we got into Canada, where everyone from everywhere had been vaccinated by then. Our immigration combined the creative and the traditional, was even a little funny. It took a while. I can say that Gene Clark’s Strength Of Strings—a rolling throbbing soaring heartbeat of a song—filled my brain at the key crossing juncture with yearning for a new life as I overheard a wary Canadian voice turn pleasant and inviting.
We wound up settling in a hillside community, a semi-abandoned mining town that could use more Vitamin D. Land was bountiful. The people were pleasant and tolerant. I wound up designing stuff in the DIY mode they favor.
I pretended I was gleaning know-how off the Web. It was fascinating having to reinvent the wheel, justify things I’d learned in architecture school. I built a few structures, even a boat. I helped rig water-recycling schemes and I customized energy systems to liberate folks from the grid.
Familiarity Breeds Content
When you’re living underground, you avoid questions. Some you answer before people can pose them. Others you gradually finesse by turning yourself into local furniture. Your neighbors whisper comfortable myths about your past. Over time you want to be like that ‘new’ chair Aunt Mabel got long ago.
Canadians made it easy for us. They’re too polite to pry. They respect strangers till you give them reason not to. It still hurts that I lied to them. I had to pass on some promising friendships.
To avoid generating attention, I also had to learn not to argue, never to express controversial opinions. When I speak English, I still want to close sentences with that self-deprecating Canadian eh.
Anna and I developed the gift of debating in whispers, or eyebrow code when silence was essential. She always preferred telepathic discourse anyway. Anna never lost her taste for teasing me with meaningful flashes from her gray eyes until I was too weak to resist her sweet implacable wisdom.
Canada was very good to us. I guess it civilized me, made me a social libertarian.
We didn’t go anywhere the next flu season. We lay low in honor of Dr. Hope-Simpson, trying not to spread whatever we harbored. You all know better than I how fearsome Round Three was. A lot of Round One survivors got reinfected. I told you viruses were tricky.
I expect to see more pandemics in my lifetime. There are currently circulating five bird flu strains that could cross over and kick society to pieces all over again. Forget the smug assurances that a big pandemic can occur only once per century: We continue to culture killer microbes in the industrial food chain.
I’m surprised that the authorities still don’t know how influenza spreads among people. No one cares. That’s probably just as well: If Hope-Simpson were well understood and respected, some would try to thwart the natural process of immunization. In order to keep flu survivors from reactivating and spreading the virus, people with immunity would be hunted down and liquidated by the unexposed—a biological nightmare Ayn Rand might have dreamed up.
Two years ago, Anna and I nearly replaced one of the world’s billion flu victims. We had well-practiced and capable help, but our baby’s birth went wrong. Losing a second daughter hurt Anna immeasurably more than it hurt me. What’s more than infinity? We fell into a state of considerate depression, trying to care for one another even as we stopped caring about ourselves.
Then my brother’s unauthorized publication of my blog forced us to separate: I had described Anna too well and Canada doesn’t want illegal immigrants either. I haven’t communicated with her since we left the country by separate means. Since there were no warrants out for her, I sent Anna back to New York.
How I long for her. All women remind me of Anna. They either do something she would do or they lack things I like about her. There’s no way for us to communicate safely, but I’m certain she misses me, too. I can’t even buy music that reminds me of her, lest I trigger some data-mining algorithm they’ve cooked up to catch me shopping on the Web.
The City of New York and the U.S. Government still demand that I admit to assaulting an officer of the law, possessing weapons and drugs, using false documents, tampering with the Internet at home and abroad for criminal gain, and committing a host of lesser offenses. I herewith throw the book back at them.
You’re reading it.
I never harmed anyone. I helped people. My transgressions were verbal and they were aimed at a state that failed its citizens in a thousand ways. My ‘crimes’ have outlived the Great H5N1 Avian Pandemic.
I will not go to prison or see my reputation blackened further. I want to clear my name.
I don’t hate the people who hound me. The DHS workers and fellow apparatchiks are merely doing their jobs, dreaming of pensions and college for the kids. Nice folks, following orders. We’ve all heard that before. I want them to stop.
I want Round Two with Anna. I yearn to stroll Manhattan with her. No masks or gloves or goggles. We’d rediscover one another in magnificent combustion. I’d taste her resolve, consume her anew. I’d learn to laugh again.
I’m trapped in cyberspace like that polar bear you all fussed over last year as he drifted to his doom on that shrinking ice floe. Please don’t let that happen to me.
Don’t count Blogula out!