Monday, November 30, 2020

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2020

In the short amount of time that the experts had to argue — venting their spleen in press conferences, on 24-hour cable news, and in hastily published white papers —they proposed numerous conflicting rationales for the viral spillover. Some posited a natural mutation. Others pointed the finger at insect cell-derived influenza vaccines. A vocal minority condemned lax laboratory security, and while the specific facility to blame varied from account to account, most of the criticism centered around the NIH's Rocky Mountain Laboratories. A few quickly squelched voices muttered about intentional leaks, ancient conspiracies, and one-world governments.

None of it mattered. Quick disbursement of PPE equipment on a global scale might've helped, but it would've required swift worldwide adoption by a wary populace for an indefinite period. In the end, people didn't start to scramble for N95 and nitriles until they noticed that the mosquitoes and dragonflies hadn't arrived with high summer. And then they themselves started to fall ill.

The initial symptoms proved weak when compared to other forms of viral meningitis. A low-grade fever. A throbbing head. A brittle sensation around the neck. General malaise. Sure, it had almost a 100 percent transmission rate, but deaths remained about equal with the common cold. It hardly seemed worth all the furor it elicited in the newspapers and online.

At least at first. Because when patients recovered, they didn't sponge the stale sweat from their bodies. They didn't spoon soup into their mouths. They didn't do at all. Auto-Activation Deficit the doctors called it. Irrevocable damage to the basal ganglia. And people died in their homes, at their offices, on the street, malnourished and dehydrated, fouled by their own filth, full cognizant and unable to act without external impetus.

One day, the only butterflies left were in your chest as you marched out your front door and towards your death, driven by a bone-deep hunger. You found cans of Spam and bottled water in a boarded-up Jewel Osco. You siphoned a gallon of gasoline from a Sheetz, an attendant's body frozen in a chair behind the counter, eyes tracking you.

The first flush of fever hit just outside of Kewanee. You slipped in Bluetooth earbuds and prepared to ride it out, time contracting and dilating as you shivered, sun and moon chasing each other to the horizon. When the shuddering stopped and you tried to crack the window, you found that you couldn't. You arms simply refused to obey.

A burst of static in one ear and then the other. A voice, faint and tenebrous. "Listen, if you can hear me, make your way to Chicago. I'll talk you there. Start your car."

A shiver runs through your hand, and it slowly lifts toward the ignition …

* * *

Welcome, writerly friends, to Advent Ghosts 2020, the eleventh annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. Though few today combine creepiness with Christmas, telling uncanny stories around Advent has a long and distinguished pedigree. Consider a recent article by Nerdist, which discusses how the Cambridge scholar M.R. James terrified friends with his annual ghost stories.
For more than a decade, a likeminded group of writers have kept this peculiarly British tradition going — and we'd like you to join us. All are welcome, and our only rules for participating are ...
1) Email me at ISawLightningFall [at] gmail [dot] com.
2) Pen a scary story that’s exactly 100-words long — and I do mean exactly.
3) Post the story to your blog on Saturday, December 19 and email the link to me. Hosting on ISLF is available for those without blogs or anyone who wants to write under a pseudonym. (Don't worry, you’ll maintain copyright!)
4) While you should feel free to write whatever you want to, know that I reserve the right to put a content warning on any story that I think needs it.
What to know what previous years have looked like before you start scribbling away? Read last year's stories.


Loren Eaton said...

For those who are wondering, I will admit to borrowing a line from a Bring Me the Horizon song. (Content warning, by the way!)

Phil W said...

That’s a cute little story you got there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.

Loren Eaton said...


Loren Eaton said...

I look fondly forward to any alterations you may have, Phil!