A science fiction story about the end of the world, the future, hope, disease, zombies, strippers, and everything else.
Episode One: The heart of a hero
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I’m in the middle of the big move so it may be some weeks before I am free to write again.
Justin Timberlake, Sexy Back
The Book of Carrot
Book One: Principal Virtues
Chapter Two: Abandon all to hope
Episode Fourteen: What’s Love Got To Do With It? Part One
No one noticed her perfectly manicured, sky blue nails that matched her lipstick and mascara. Nor did they pay attention to her platinum blonde wig with shoulder length curls.
She walked out on the stage like a runway model. Her white platform heels clicked on the stainless steel floor. White, opaque, schoolgirl socks ended mid thigh. A white mini-mini dress exposed the bottom half of her rounded buttocks and a glimpse of her white boy short panties as she spun around. Unadjusted, her white, lacy push up bra exposed the pink, full nipple of her right breast.
Justin Timberlake’s song, Sexy Back, started.
Mihaela walked a circle around the stage, turning every few meters so everyone could see as much as could be seen. Her holographic image was reproduced with a ten second delay at six holographic stages around the center stage area. 12 cameras rolled around on separate, suspended tracks that ringed the stage.
She stepped down three steps to the countertop that circled the stage. Her favorites and some of her not-so-favorites sat in bar stools around the countertop.
Mihaela walked the full circle of the countertop, turning in front of each customer, smiling, laughing and blowing kisses.
Lumi put a 500 Euro note in her mouth and laid on her back across the countertop. Mihaela stepped gingerly over her head, and lowered her crotch over Lumi’s face. Lumi grabbed both of Mihaela’s ass cheeks and gave them a feel. When Mihaela lifted herself from Lumi’s face, the 500 Euro note was sticking out of her panties.
Max and Grace stared at Lumi with big eyes as she slid off the countertop and back into her bar stool.
At nearby bar stools, John, Cristina, and George whistled and cheered.
In the dressing room, topless women were eating salads, putting on makeup, or talking on mobile phones.
“Did you like the show?” Mihaela asked Grace and Max as Cristina helped her remove her wig and Lumi unbuckled her platform heels.
“You were mind blowing… sexy!” exclaimed Max.
“You’re hot!” Grace replied.
“And what about you, John?”
“You are the hottest doctor ever,” John answered with a smile.
“I’d fuck you…” Cristina added.
Everyone burst out laughing.
“How did you get into the… show business?” asked Grace as she eyed herself in a full length mirror.
Did she have what it takes? Grace wondered to herself.
“Stripping, you mean?”
Mihaela asked with a smile.
“I started when I was in Med school. I had two babies with autism, no man, and my parents didn’t have any money. A friend of mine was doing it and she was making a lot of money; she prepped me for the audition.”
Mihaela noticed Grace looking at herself in the mirror.
“You’ve got the body, sweetie. I love your perky tits. You just need to work on your attitude and confidence…”
“Was it hard? In the beginning, I mean…” asked Max.
“No. Not for me,” Mihaela replied.
“I got into stripping knowing that I was hot, smart, fun-loving; and that stripping is a trade – not a trap. I wasn’t at the end of my rope – stripping was a smart and sexy option. But, yeah, I know that it can be really hard for a lot of young women. If you don’t believe in yourself. If you sell yourself short.
We all have to make money – one way or another. We have to live – not just survive. That’s why the most important thing is not to sell yourself short. Even if these are hard times…”
“Amen!” said Lumi.
“How do you deal with people touching you?” Grace asked.
“I don’t think of my customers as creeps. I think of my customers as human beings – as persons with profound spiritual needs – spiritual needs that I have too.”
“Spiritual?!” asked Max in surprise.
“I need to know beauty and love,” Mihaela answered.
“I need to feel beauty and love. That’s why the Ward means so much to me.
It’s a beautiful place regardless of what the eye may not see. You may see it as a place where death humiliates the dying and strips persons of their physical dignity and integrity – but it’s a place where I feel beauty and love.
The Ward is where beauty and love surrounds me in the unseen triumph of a cancer patient that lived today in the company of love.”
Cristina brushed a tear from her eye and hugged Mihaela.
“My customers want to feel what beauty and love are. They touch it when they touch me…”
Mihaela continued talking as Cristina held her.
“Of course, when I’m on the stage, I’m the one who decides who touches me or not. If they don’t feel right to me from a distance, if something is off about them, I don’t put myself or my body at their disposal.
But I still have to entertain them because they are my customers too. For them, I have to create beauty and love as a stage craft – as a performance art. That’s burlesque. And I learned a lot about the art and glamor of burlesque from Dita Von Teese – reading and watching interviews.
“Dita was a goddess,” George said – finally managing to say something despite his mind being occupied almost completely with the wonderful beauty of all the topless women in the room.
“The Perrier interactive gig was epic.”
Outside, the seven friends walked the few blocks from the club to the coffee shop where they intended to punctuate the twilight. They passed smoking trash cans around which the homeless slept. It was a hot summer night and Grace didn’t understand why the homeless slept near the smouldering steel barrels.
“The trash cans aren’t heaters – they’re bug repellant,” explained George.
“Just yesterday, a nurse was telling me how hundreds of the homeless had tested positive with West Nile Fever or something similar – something doctors are calling Z.”
“Really?” Mihaela asked with unusual concern. “Where does she work?”
“The Cotroceni Quarantine Unit,” George replied.
“Wow…” Mihaela gasped.
“What’s Z?” Lumi asked Mihaela.
“I can find any medical reference to a Z virus on the web.”
“It’s kind of hush hush, but Z stands for Zombie.
Like the West Nile Virus, Z is transmitted by female mosquitoes. The first known infection was identified six months ago in Brasov – a few weeks later in Damascus and Riyadh. Some experts are saying that 20,000 people have already died from it this year.”
“What are the symptoms of Z?” John asked.
Mihaela continued as they walked past more smoking steel barrels and the sleeping homeless.
“The flu-like symptoms of the 20-30 day incubation are identical to the West Nile Fever: diarrhea, loss of appetite, high fevers, chills, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, reduced intellectual operations, and headaches.
But it’s after incubation period that Z symptoms begin to resemble the Advanced Nodding Disease that broke out in Uganda, Sudan and Libya in 2018: violent behavior; personality changes; mental degradation; aggressive appetite; and, ultimately, a chronic and almost insatiable craving for animal protein.”
“It’s kinda like the game!” George exclaimed excitedly.
“The Zombie apocalypse has begun!”
Mihaela and everyone else seemed to ignore George’s revelation.
“Failure to obtain a daily diet of approximately 500 grams of animal protein in addition to normal nutritional requirements results in a violent Z state, internal protein cannibalization, wasting away, and cardiac arrest within 30 days of any significant diet restriction.
A recent Amsterdam study, however, suggests that 50g of a specific protein, Acetylcholinesterase, can substitute for 400 grams of daily dietary animal protein requirement.”
“How do you spell that word?” Grace asked as she experimented with the phonetic sounds…
“H-e-a-d-s-h-o-t-s… and that’s all I gotta say,” George mumbled.
A homeless woman that John recognized from Stirbei Voda smiled and waved at him as they passed another smouldering steel barrel. She couldn’t speak. John waved back to her. Then he fished a twenty Euro bill out of his pocket and went over and gave it to her.
The woman put her hand over her heart and mouthed the words “thank you”.
“You’re welcome,” replied John.
The coffee shop was within sight. Lime-yellow neon icons glowed brightly above the entrance: a seven digitated cannabis leaf, a pharmaceutical cross and an ascii happy face on its side.
A bright mercury lamp above the door frame turned on as they approached – the blacklight was activated by a motion sensor. Hebrew characters fluoresced in blue upon the door: Who is like God?
Unnoticed, the seal of Solomon dimly fluoresced white on the floor in front of the door.
George and Mihaela went in first. The others followed. The coffee shop was packed, but the waiter was from George’s guild and he sat them at two couches reserved for VIP members.
George ordered 3 grams of hash, a water bong rental, and three 2-liter bottles of spring water.
John ordered a round of double espressos and a baker’s dozen of chocolate chip scones.
“As hard as times are right now, I was really surprised to see a full house at the club,” said Lumi as the waiter placed the 2-liter bottles of spring water on the coffee table between the couches.
“It was also surprising to see all the tips you were picking up. You made a small fortune tonight!”
“Now you know how I keep the Ward going when I’m waiting for the Winter and Spring giving,” Mihaela answered.
“The harder the times, perhaps, the more urgent is our want to know beauty and love,” John proposed.
“Exactly!” Mihaela confirmed as she grabbed a bottle of cold spring water. She took a big gulp.
On a nearby wall, a ten year old, 84 inch LED backlit wide screen TV showed the camera view of the faces of customers approaching the front door of the coffee shop. Above the TV, an oil reproduction of John Martin’s apocalyptic The Fall of Babylon hung in a gray, square frame decorated with mouldings of miniature, human skulls of various sizes.
John noticed that the reproduction, however, was a variation on John Martin’s original. He had viewed the original at The British Museum.
The reproduction was a square. In the original, a woman in a gown kneels and pleads for her life. In the reproduction, she was replaced by three naked women in chains. Behind the Tower of Babylon, the artist had crowded together dark silhouettes of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and Hong Kong’s Entertainment Building.
In the center of Babylon, John recognized other changes not in the original: Trajan’s Column, a Christ with a flaming sword coming out of his mouth and a beheaded stone head of Stalin lying on its side. Blood poured from its gray mouth. Finally, replacing the original building in the forefront on the bottom right was the ruins of the Dome of the Rock.
In one hand, Christ held the Earth and above the Earth in his open hand, the sun floated and spat a tongue of fire upon the Earth. In the other hand, a scroll twirled up into the sky like a tornado.
This reproduction was an apocalyptic vision, John thought to himself.
It was a terrifying vision of the expiration of worldly hopes. Of false hope, mostly. But also, false ambition and promise.
Two men approached the entrance. The irises of their eyes fluoresced yellow under the blacklight. John, Lumi, Max and Mihaela happened to be looking at the monitor when the two men with yellow glowing eyes approached the door. The two men stopped; they seemed to look at the door and then at the ground in front of the door. Then they exchanged words, turned and left.
A blue-eyed young woman approached the front door, pushed it open, and came in.
“So it wasn’t a lens effect,” said Lumi.
John and Mihaela were thinking the exact same thing.
“What lens effect?” asked Cristina.
“The glowing yellow irises of two men that decided not to come into the coffee shop,” Max explained.
“Are you serious?” Grace asked.
John nodded to Grace.
“There are fungi – Dermatophytes – that fluoresce yellow under blacklight,” explained Mihaela.
“In fact, the dermatologist at the Ward uses a blacklight to determine the affected area and spread of common fungal infections. But the thing is that dermatophytes – for example – don’t grow on the human cornea.
Tears and the pre-corneal tear film prevent such corneal infections. Nor can fungi penetrate to the iris…”
George fired up the bowl of hash on the water pipe and took a hit.
“You totally killed the fire I had going on for you – the fire that started when I saw your stage act,” George half-jokingly told Mihaela.”
“Too much think can be a total turn off,” George added after blowing smoke at Mihaela.
Mihaela threw an open, half empty bottle of water at George. Water went everywhere.
“What! What?” George shouted out and raised his open palms just above his head in a gesture of mock innocence and surrender.
After a minute or two, George spoke again.
“The thing is this. Epidemics or end of the world – all that stuff is bigger than us. It’s a problem that needs a bigger wrench than what we got.”
George handed the water pipe to Grace. She fired up the bowl and took a hit. Meanwhile, George continued his thought as the waiter brought out the expressos and chocolate chip scones.
“We can put eyes and ears on the situation. We can prep, we can stay out of trouble’s way, and we can watch each other’s six. Beyond that – the never ending drama of questions and speculation, that shit, it only stresses us out and wears us down. So, I’m saying, chill out.”
Meanwhile, the homeless woman (to whom John had given money) approached the door of the coffee shop. Her eyes fluoresced blue under the blacklight. Cristina had noticed her on the TV and it almost looked like she was waving for someone to come out. The homeless woman didn’t enter the coffee shop, but she continued to gesticulate.
Cristina nudged John and jokingly told him that homeless woman was trying to get his attention.
John went outside to see what was going on.
The homeless woman looked relieved when she saw him. She motioned for John to follow her and she led him toward a lot fenced by tall, iron sections. She knocked on a rusty door – knock-knock-pause-knock-knock-pause-knock-knock-knock.
The door screeched open and inside, John could see several groups of homeless people huddled around smouldering steel barrels – just like they had seen on the streets. The smoke, however, had a different smell altogether. John smelled notes of myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, clove, wine, and salt.
“What are you burning?” John asked.
“Ketoret…” someone whispered.
The homeless woman motioned to John again; she wanted him to follow her into a tent that was lit up from the inside.
John entered the tent and he found a young woman seated on a yellow, leather arm chair – a Poltrona Frau Hydra armchair just like the chairs John had in his basement apartment.
The young woman was whispering, her head was uplifted and her open palms stretched out past the arms of the chair. Her head was shaven – exposing aramaic script written in silver around the top of her head. Her eyes were unusual – gray irises ringed with a band of brown.
She wore a slim-fitting, white tee shirt and hip riding white jeans with boot cut legs.
“Do not be afraid,” she whispered but her lips did not move. It was the same voice that had whispered the answer to John’s question about what they had been burning outside.
John blinked and she was out of the chair and half the distance between him and the chair. He blinked again and her arms were around him and her lips against his right ear.
“There’s not much time.”
He blinked again and she was behind him and she took his right hand into hers. They were standing in a hospital room – a patient grabbed a nurse and bit off a piece of the nurse’s cheek.
John blinked and they were standing on roof of the intercontinental hotel in downtown Bucharest – it was night and there were no lights. Below a crowd of thousands rushed upon a formation of anti-riot troops, machine guns blazed from two Apache helicopters, and tear gas cannisters rained down upon the attackers.
An infant cried with a hoarse voice in an empty apartment. His mother and father lay dead on the street below (killed by a hit and run). Two cans of baby formula had spilled out from a torn, plastic grocery bag.
“Who are you?” John yelled at the woman.
Next, John was standing in the rear of the United Nations General Assemby Hall where delegates loudly, angrily and passionately pleaded with General Secretary Barrack Hussein Obama for peace and security. Looking around, he recognized James Arthur Ray speaking with a German delegate. Ray noticed John and winked at him though it seemed as if no one else could see John and his companion.
Then a tsunami of images and sounds engulfed John.
Martin Luther King, Jr spoke as a bomb was released from a bomber, the bomb sailed down, a nuclear chain reaction was ignited, a blinding, white light flashed out across the land, and a white mushroom cloud rose to the heavens. Transposed upon that image, John saw starving, dying, boated, African children and vultures flying over head…
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
At the same time as Martin Luther King spoke his last sentence, Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, began to speak.
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’
“Who are you?” John asked again.
And Oppenheimer’s words echoed as if an answer to John’s question.
‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’
Next, John saw the sun throw out a great flame, a shower of meteorites fall upon the Earth, and a red moon.
“What can I do to stop this?” John whispered.
“What can I do when I am nothing – a no one?”
“John… are you ok?” Cristina asked.
Cristina took John’s right hand in her two hands. His view (which had been blurred by his tears) resolved and he saw Cristina standing in front of him. They were outside the coffee shop.
“Where did you get these from?” Cristina asked as she brushed some small, white down feathers from John’s brown hair.
John inhaled deeply.
“Who was the girl that you were talking to and where did she go?” Cristina asked.
“You saw her?”
“Um, Yeah. The hot, bald headed chick in white – who is she, John?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know her name.”
“What’d she want?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t make a lot of sense. She spoke in mixed metaphors…”
“It was apocalyptic,” John replied.
“So how does the world end? Is there a happy ending?” Cristina teased.
“I don’t think so,” John replied and he pulled Cristina in for a tight hug.
“That’s not very hopeful,” Cristina whispered in his ear.
John whispered back.
“Maybe, hope doesn’t work like that…
I mean, maybe hope isn’t about something that’s going to be handed to us on a silver platter. Maybe, hope is as much about our investment and commitment to the opportunity… as it is about the opportunity that has been given to us.”
“Sounds complicated…” Cristina replied.
“I’m trying to understand it, myself.”
“The question of hope?”
“Ouf! That’s a big question, John.”
With the mango scent of Cristina’s hair in his nose, John noticed the predawn glow in the dark skies above Bucharest. He held Cristina tighter.
“Don’t forget love,” Cristina said.
“There’s no hope without love.”
“I think so too,” John replied and they kissed.
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All Rights Reserved by Stan Faryna
12 December 2012