I believe I came from a good upbringing, a good home life. My family wasn’t overly religious, but my parents injected a lot of morals into my childhood, morals that as a young man I didn’t always follow, but as an older man I live by.
Although my family now only consisted of Marina and me, it is nonetheless my family, and I vowed to always provide for and protect that institution. Violent attacks were happening everywhere, so I decided to do something about it.
I never really had a reason to own a gun, although I’ve always kept a baseball bat under the bed – you never know, and Marina would never allow firearms in the house, but I thought what with everything going on and all, it might be a good idea. Marina was dead against it, but I finally won her over with reason and a lot of persistence. Believe me, it was never easy going up against my wife, but is it ever easy for any man? It is, and always will be, one of the greatest battles men will ever have to endure.
On this particular day, I was driving over to AAA Pawn on Center Street, intent and a little nervous about buying my first gun, when I noticed some activity out of the corner of my eye. To my right, two policemen were chasing a man through the huge trees of Pioneer Park. I didn’t think it was that unusual; vagrants and train jumpers are always hanging out or sleeping there, begging for spare change at the grocery store just across the street. It is a way station not only for the homeless of Compton, save for those just traveling through to whatever destinations the road takes them.
When the man being pursued changed paths and suddenly headed in my direction, I saw his face. It was familiar and gruesome, and sent a cold shudder down my spine. His eyes were enough to turn anyone’s blood cold. He was flailing his arms, and I could faintly hear his incoherent screams. His face twisted into a semblance of insanity I had seen before – the day I had seen Ritchie’s face on TV.
As I drove by, the police wrestled the man to the ground and cuffed him. That was the moment when the severity of the situation sank in, and it not only filled me with worry, but with dread. This safe, docile world was changing, suddenly becoming the opposite of the suburban ordinariness in which I had grown up; this normal environment was what I had wanted for Marina, a world where we could be safe and happy, grow old together. Now the dream was being threatened.
I thought about Marina. She was my life, and I would have to be strong for the both of us. Gradually, I felt more comfortable about buying a gun.
I bought a Smith and Wesson .38 Special revolver, silver with a black grip, four hundred dollars, thank you very much. Nonetheless, I think it was worth the price. Although the law dictated that I couldn’t pick it up for five days, I already felt more secure. I would be able to protect everything in my life that was important to me, not to mention my own skin.
Reports of violence continued to rule the airwaves, and even here, things seemed to be slowly deteriorating. Scientists were still wracking their brains to create a serum for a virus they had never seen before, and nobody was coming forward to claim responsibility or offer any helpful information.
A government germ lab back east had suddenly come under fire, and the President commissioned a special committee to investigate reports of “suspicious activity beyond the directives set forth by the government and the possibility of mishandled materials.”
Because of the mysterious qualities of the virus, scientists had dubbed it “The X Virus.” The mainstream public had another name for it: “The Maniac Virus.” Truly, this seemed the best name for the bug; all one had to do was watch the news to see the bizarre effects in had on people. And while watching CNN, I was not surprised to hear them also refer to The Maniac Virus.
The eggheads back east were leaking information out to the public in bits and pieces, and the more you heard, the worse it got. Although it was still early in the game, they had determined that there was more than one reaction to this virus: The most common was the insane, violent behavior was the dominating reaction. Another was a more docile reaction, a slow deterioration into madness. A third was simply a flu-like death, over a period of about three days. Then, there were people like me – immune and only God knew why. At first, I did not know about my own immunity until my wife succumbed to the virus. God rest her soul. For the time being, I considered myself lucky enough to have been spared the ill effects of the deadly bug.
The government issued warnings about coming into contact with strangers, or people known to have the virus, and the best way to do this was to cover all exposed skin, especially the arms and hands. Wash your hands constantly. They also warned that the virus could be airborne, but until testing was conclusive, no one could be sure. The best defense, they stated, was to stay home, and go out only if necessary. Those who worked were urged to go straight home after work.
I am of the working class, and I had to work to make ends meet, but things were getting scary at my plant; security personnel were stationed outside, checking everybody who entered, talking to people to ensure that no lunatics got through the door. Personally, I thought it was ridiculous. If someone really wanted to get inside, all he or she had to do was act normal enough and smile casually as they passed the guard. Anyway, who knew who was carrying the damned bug?
This management realized which is why notifications of a possible plant shutdown were plastered all over the bulletin boards. We were told the government could step in anytime and close us down. The outlook was grim, and I think we all felt like we were walking on thin ice. Less people were showing up for work, and production was way down. It was only a matter of time.