This story is by Claude Bornel and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Where is it?” The man in front of the mirror said, frowning and staring at his own eyes. His reflection appeared to be bright and colorful and contrasted with the reality he perceived fading around him. “I’ve been searching all this time… Stop gloating like that and tell me where it is. I miss them so much.”
He blinked twice and shifted his sight from the mirror to the window. The fifth floor gave a fair view of the streets below, which the man saw as empty as a canvas for an artist about to paint a ghost ship. Every once in a while, vans delivering stuff and people wearing masks and gloves under a midday sun in July splashed colors to the canvas, but the man couldn’t distinguish them anymore.
“I need to place my order.”
The man blinked twice before turning to the rest of his almost bare loft. At the end of the room, the built-in wall to wall bookshelf was empty. Books, ripped pages and opened packages on the floor formed piles. He beheld those piles as they shaped into some abstract structures emerging from the sea. He snorted, realizing the irony.
“I have to find that Thomas Merton book before it is too late.”
Walking to the moveable kitchen island positioned in the middle of the room, he grabbed the tablet tossed near a picture frame, office supplies and a small pile of papers. There was no chair for him to sit, so he stood and moved side by side as if he was in a rocking boat.
The government news feed opened first when he turned on the tablet. He had to go through the mandatory default page before doing anything else in the device. The major headline hit him like a torpedo on a ship.
“How better life is 20 years after the first pandemic wave,” the man read and hugged himself, his right hand slapping his chest over and over. He forced himself to read the article which highlighted the billions who died on the consecutive waves of the disease, cutting the world population almost in half.
“It’s true everybody has a story of loss to tell, but nobody has time to grieve. The sanitization camps are working to find a definitive cure. Until then, keep wearing your monitoring bracelets, obey the curfew rules, and stay at home as much as possible to minimize the risks of contamination.”
“Focus, Wilson,” the man said to himself, looking to the picture frame, holding the tablet. “I’m going to find it, my loves.”
Before Wilson could finish placing the order, he heard the doorbell ring. Through the doorbell camera connected to the tablet, he saw a delivery guy wearing a backpack standing with one hand in his pocket and the other one holding a package.
“Leave it on the mat and go.”
“This one requires signature, sir.”
Throwing the tablet on the kitchen island countertop, Wilson grabbed a pen and opened the door.
“Don’t try anything funny unless you want to get hurt.”
Wilson let the pen fall. His belly contracted when the intruder pointed the firearm to his belly and pushed him inside the loft. Everything happened too fast, but Wilson noticed that the guy’s mouth smelled of tuna fish and that the package fell on the floor.
“I didn’t find it yet. Is that the one?” Wilson realized the tuna fish guy wasn’t up for questions when the guy smacked him in the face with the butt of the gun.
“Dead men tell no tales! You rich people have nothing to say, so shut your mouth and move over there before I shoot you!”
With a bleeding nose, Wilson crawled toward the piles huffing and puffing as if he was swimming against the tide until he reached the book shore and touched a few volumes. He took one and attempted to sit with his back against the wall while observing his aggressor shoving the tablet in his backpack. The moment Wilson saw him touching the picture frame, his heart skipped a beat.
“You have a hot wench here, old salt,” the tuna fish guy mocked. “I bet this little girl is not little anymore.”
Wilson breathed a sigh of relief when the tuna fish guy let go of the frame, but he lost control, shaking the book in his hands and blinking several times when he saw the tuna fish guy shifting through all the papers on the kitchen island.
“Wait a minute,” the tuna fish guy said. “You have an actual newspaper made of paper? I’ve never seen one of those.”
“P-please, please, don’t touch it,” Wilson blinked three times and begged, but the tuna fish guy ignored the plea and opened the paper.
“Virus kills wife and daughter of renowned surgeon,” the guy sighed reading the headline.
“Aren’t you going to help me?” Wilson mumbled while staring at his own reflection in the mirror on the other side of the loft. He kept repeating it louder and louder.
“Shut up, shut up!” The tuna fish guy went really close to Wilson’s face. The smell of tuna was undeniable. “Who are you talking to?”
Wilson pointed at the mirror and caught his aggressor frowning while looking at the mirror and the piles on the floor. “How many copies of this book do you have?”
Closing his eyes, Wilson held the book tight in his arms and rocked back and forth. He hummed some random melody as if he was cradling an infant.
“I see now,” the tuna fish guy shook the gun. “The virus affected you, but nobody else, right?”
Shaking his head, Wilson kept humming.
“I was born and raised in the middle of this shit,” the tuna fish guy beat on his own chest. “My mom died, I had no other family, but you, you are a doctor. You should be out there helping people, trying to find a fucking cure.”
“I didn’t find it yet.”
“Find what? Do you want to walk the plank?” The tuna fish guy pointed the gun to Wilson’s face. “What else valuable do you have?”
“The package you brought,” Wilson insisted. “Is that the one?”
Holding the book with one hand, Wilson used the other one to support his weight and pressed his back against the wall to stand up and look at the guy grabbing the package.
“For your own sake, there must be something priceless inside.”
Wilson’s heart filled with hope as the tuna fish guy, holding the gun, ripped off the cardboard in front of him. He saw in his aggressor’s frown looking at the package’s content that he was alone in his enthusiasm.
“No Man is An Island?” Frustrated, the guy fish guy shook the gun’s barrel in Wilson’s direction. “Are you fucking messing with me? Don’t you have enough copies of this shit?”
“Let me see it, please.”
“You want this, huh?” The tuna fish guy flipped through the book pages. “This one has a lot of notes in it.”
Wilson’s eye opened wide. “Give me the book.”
“How about if you buy it from me? You must be rich to afford to live in a place like that despite all this garbage you have here.”
“No! Give me the book,” Wilson dropped the edition he was cradling and threw himself on his aggressor to reach the edition with notations. They both fell on the floor with Wilson on the top with the firearm once again poking his belly.
In that moment, Wilson understood what spearfishing looked like from the fish’s point of view, but he only tasted blood and to notice the burning in his abdomen when his aggressor pushed him away and fled.
Waves of thoughts about his wife and daughter stroke inside Wilson’s head. In one splash, he could see them laughing and playing in the loft. In the next, they disappeared. Moving was painful. Still, seeing the book with notations one foot away from him made the pain worthwhile. He never knew how it got lost, but he always wondered if it was when he gave his library away after Helen and Kelly died.
Lying on the floor, Wilson recognized his wife’s penmanship throughout the pages and the little drawings his daughter made in the first page of each chapter.
On page 37, he read the formula Helen wrote during a bedtime conversation they had about the virus weeks before Helen and Kelly got sick. With all his influence at that time, he failed to find one soul to back his wife up, but he never doubted she had found the cure. Those years of unsuccessful trials proved him she was right, and all he wanted was to find that formula and send it to someone.
Now, lying on the floor, all Wilson could do was to smile at his wife and daughter’s scribbles in the last chapter. The man closed his eyes as waves kept striking in his head.
Louis Chin says
Quite an interesting read.
Page Craw says
This story distressed me – the loss of life, the loss of Wilson’s equilibrium, and the loss of that meaningful treasure which to the tuna fish guy meant nothing, but with its appearance brought the probable loss of even Wilson’s life. He died happily regaining memories and maybe a cure which he won’t be able to share. This isn’t spelled out, but a gut wound is generally fatal. This was distressing. Engrossing, nevertheless.