EXCERPTS FROM A LIFE ONCE LIVED

by Michael Verderber

RHODES –
38, male married to MONIQUE. Father of Cherub. One survivor.

MONIQUE –
32, female, married to RHODES. Mother of Cherub. Another survivor. Believed to be dead.

WES –
19, male. College student who breaks into a radio station and broadcasts news of the plague.

(Lights up on RHODES huddled in the corner of stage coughing slightly. He is bedecked in tattered clothing and his skin is very dirty and bloody. His appearance is that of a homeless man, which has been similar to his state.)

RHODES
I had a family once. I had a little girl once. I had a life once. My little girl, Cherub, was the love of my life. My wife and I named her Cherub because in the sonogram she had the biggest cheeks…my wife, her name was Monique…she died. I think.

MONIQUE
I told my husband to leave me be. That I was already infected. And so was Cherub, our little girl. (beat) I couldn’t tell you what happened…my whole family was wiped out. I mean on my mother’s side. Just two months ago I was at the Shonefeld family reunion. Everyone was there smiling, eating…happy. And then the news broke out about a virus that affected rats and small rodents. Some asshole in a failing pet store ordered a bunch of rats from…some damn place. But they had some disease, dormant for a long time.

RHODES
If I remember correctly, this desert community got wiped out near an excavation site. Egypt! Or maybe Pakistan…I don’t know. I had to have been Egypt because they were getting mummies or some damned thing. Anyway, all of the researchers were killed in a matter of days. Except, this one guy got out. For some goddamned reason he sold the rats to someone else. And now here we are. 87% of the population is dead. At least that’s what they speculate.

MONIQUE
Big cities got it worst, obviously. New York, Boston, Baltimore, the whole East Coast. And then it spread: flights, bus rides, any way people travel. San Diego, San Francisco Island, LA, Seattle just decimated. I think they said Phoenix and Las Vegas were confirmed 100% decimated. “Decimated” – that’s all I’ve heard for days. Rarely could you even get a radio station or TV and not hear it.

RHODES
You couldn’t get anything on TV or radio – and that’s where people expect to get info. News of where it was bad or how to stop the disease. Even the phone lines were down so the internet was stagnant, too. There was this one station. It was KXGG or something. For a while I tried tuning to it but I heard nothing. Nothing. Then I started hearing this kid on it. He must have been high school or college or something.

WES
I didn’t know what to do at first. People were literally dropping like flies, man. Shit, it freaked me out. That’s because people thought that the plague was some chicken flu from Asia. At least that’s what the talk was in recent years. Well, they found out how to combat the chicken flu. They tried it on the new victims, but it didn’t work at all. It actually made it worst. It’s like, the disease was irritated by the medicine and decided to say “fuck you” and get worse. People always said that we’d nuke each other to death. “Oh, the Taliban ragheads will bomb us. Oh, the Koreans will bomb us.” Whatever. For a while I thought that a comet or something, will out of nowhere, blow up the Earth. That’s what I thought. I never figured it would be this…

MONIQUE
It was like War of Worlds or something. Everyone dying and then it all of a sudden, stopping. As sick as it is to say, it is almost intriguing the way the plague worked. It started with excavation site and just about everyone around. Then it spread, like a fire in a dry forest. Engulfing everything, everyone in its path. Once it was through with an area it just disappeared. There was no one life to kill. The governments did their attempts at stepping in; they tried to evacuate whole cities, but what the hell is that going to do? People are going to get it anyway. History repeated itself. People turned to God to help, but then lost faith. They died at the churches because that was one of the many places it spread. It’s like that Edgar Allen Poe story “The Masque of Red Death” or something. Everyone tried to hide from the plague, but it didn’t matter. It would catch up with you and kill you no matter who you are.

WES
Jews, blacks, chinks, fuckin’ politicians, Mexicans, and bums. It didn’t matter who you were or how much money you had. That was the scary part. No one could buy themselves out of this. No medicine could even slow it down. People weren’t watching TV for the celebrities, or the second stock market crash or even the impending second depression. No one cared about the immigration executions anymore. It didn’t matter that other people had fucked up countries and people were dying because of it. We were all dying. Hug your friends…you didn’t know when it would be the last.

RHODES
News always makes things seem far away, disconnected with our reality. But it didn’t take long for it to infect locals.

WES
I had a history professor that was away on a research expedition, sometime before the news spread of the infection. She was the one who brought it here. The history department and everyone in it started getting sick first. It was unbelievable. One week was all it took to infect an entire university of about 23,000 people. Students that braved the elements and went to class wore bandanas on the faces, everyone looked like a gang member. They’d go to class, just to find out their professor took a permanent vacation or worse. Suicide. Man, that happened a lot.

MONIQUE
There was an old radio show that was aired well 90 years ago in 1938 called “War of the Worlds”. Anyway, the fastest news medium was radio at the time and people mistook the show for real news. People thought that aliens were attacking New Jersey. People got scared and tried to protect themselves from this invisible threat. And people even killed themselves…because of an invisible threat. (Scoffs) Invisible threat…

RHODES
Europe got it the worst, or so I hear. Things got absolutely absurd over there. (Slight chuckle) There was even talk about changing England from a monarchy. They wanted to boot the queen! Because she (as well as everyone in the world) could not do anything. What the hell do they expect? Huh, I guess the same thing I expected: answers. We all knew it was communicable but how!? Was it airborn? What? That’s what I wanted to know. My family and I live…lived on the coast. We were scared that it would come over on a boat, but I was convinced it would come through the air. I was right. Birds. Fucking seagulls brought it over here. It was the most horrific sight. People would get it and their flesh would get this sickly green tint. Their eyes would be bloodshot like you could never imagine. Hair would fall out. And that was just phase one. My patients…their intestines started churning, like a stomach ache from hell and start…melting. A complete biological breakdown. Liquid intestines would ooze from every orifice. The worst part was, they were still alive. The final phase is when their lungs would collapse in on themselves and the patient would suffocate. The end. In the first week that it allegedly hit the states, hospitals were already prepared. For the first time in medical history, we were prepared for damnation. But preparation only goes so far. By the October 2012, every hospital, medical center, and doctor’s office was full to the brim. Medical professionals got to the point where they sent people away and urged quarantine in every home. That was the only way to slow it down. At hospitals, one person was really sick, and the healthy brother would take her to the hospital, he would in turn get sick. This happened everywhere.

WES
I wasn’t stupid, though. I locked myself into my dorm, as soon as people said it hit America on September 3, 2012. I duct taped the air conditioning ducts and shut myself in. I only ventured out once for food. That was late October. I had stayed in my room for almost a month straight. My supply was running short and I knew that things could always get worse. They did. When I came out of my room, the dorm was quiet. But there was a thick smell. Death. I nearly gagged and ran back into my room. I remember composing myself and walking back out the hall. There were some students dead in their rooms. These two girls I knew from Poli Sci were both dead, holding each other. I knew that the rest of the dorm was more of the same…and I was right. I went towards the cafeteria near my dorm to get more food. I had never heard the campus so quiet. Not even a single chirping bird. There were some dead squirrels and a dog. But no people. The doors to the cafeteria were locked so I had to break in. It was as empty as I expected. I checked some of the top floors first, for survivors I guess. I don’t really know why I looked around. Curiosity killed the cat. Anyway, the top four floors were nice. Dusty, but nice. Not all disheveled as one may think and shit. I decided that I seen enough and made my way towards the bottom level cafeteria.

MONIQUE
Invisible…but everyone could see its aftermath. Unbelievable. Rhodes left me, as I asked him to and I have not seen him. I am positive that he is dead. My baby, Cherub, died only a few days after he left. Phones didn’t work. Neither did electricity in some places. I mean, how could they if they had to be maintained by living, breathing humans? There were no more living and breathing humans. I was hoping for some sort of call or email, anything. (beat. Begins to struggle) God, Cherub. Nothing is worst than knowing that your baby is going to die in your arms…in just a matter of days. It’s not like an accident. It is the slow painful death of your flesh, right before your eyes. I was helpless. And then, my baby died. I held onto her for a few days, blindly hoping that she would come back to me. I could not bring myself to bury her. The smell was getting bad. It smelled horribly, but it smelled beautifully, because it was Cherub’s smell. (Cries) I buried her in the backyard in a makeshift grave. Her funeral was the quietest thing. Everything was so still. No birds. No cars honking. Nothing. Just Cherub and I together one last time. (Lights dim, but she stays visible)

WES
The cafeteria was a mess. Apparently, someone had beat me to it. There was no food left. I checked the walk-in refrigerator to find an older lady bundled up in blankets, dead. She was surrounded by food. I couldn’t tell by her condition whether she died of the plague or she froze. I knew that every dorm had a cafeteria so I rushed to check the others. I knew I couldn’t leisurely walk around, because every minute that I was out, I was increasing my chance of infection. I made my way to another cafeteria and was lucky enough to find food. The fruits and vegetables had long since rotted to shit, but there was a ton of canned food. I filled my backpack full of them, after I washed each can and headed back to my dorm. I managed to find some matches, a can opener and even a pack of cigarettes, but I wasn’t about to put that shit in my mouth. God knows where they have friggin’ been. Then a funny thing happened. The electricity in my dorm went off as I was eating beef stew. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but the funny thing was that it came back on. It gave me hope that maybe there is some maintenance work still alive on campus. Still working with the hope that if he or she keeps the electricity on, life can continue. In all that fucking time I was alone, that was the one thing that kept going through my head. When was life going to continue?

RHODES
I had to leave the hospital to attend to my wife and child, who were both infected. I pleaded with Monique to let me stay with her and the baby, but she insisted I leave the two of them to die. That wasn’t the way I saw it though. I told them I would leave to maybe find some antidote, some cure, that had been created. Because electricity was only working in some cities and areas, there was no way of knowing what was happening. Was it over? Did they find a cure? I had to find out something! I drove until I ran out of gas and walked all the way into the city. An empty city. I must have banged on every store window screaming “help, I’m not infected”. No one came. I’m not sure if they heard me and ignored me or people are all dead. Then I started thinking that I probably wouldn’t let anyone in my house either. Out of my human need for survival, I broke into a gas station to get food and gas. I used to pump gas back in college so I knew how to turn the pump on. I filled up one of those red containers and walked back to the car. I must have walked ten-twenty miles looking for life and my car. Then there was an epiphany.

WES
Life, I guess, is still continuing now for some, but when was it going to really continue the way it used to? That slight flicker of light was a flicker of hope for me…God, that sounds like something my English prof would say. “Flicker of hope”. Well, anyway. I got inspired to see if the college radio station was working so I made my way towards the radio station. I had forgotten that it was locked up like Fort Knox, so I had a hell of a time trying get in. It took me at least half an hour to get through the metal. But, goddammit, I got in. All of the trouble was made worthwhile when the little green light lit up on the monitor. I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing so I started looking for a button, anything, that could broadcast my voice. (Begins to chuckle). It’s funny now but I started with that stereotypical “Hello? Hello?” like anyone could actually answer me. Then I remembered seeing a small radio sitting in the other room. I wanted to make sure that people heard me, so I brought it in and listened to my voice over the air. I kept on talking to the microphone hoping to God that some could hear me on the other side.

RHODES
As I as driving I decided to scan the radio waves since my favorite radio station was already out. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And then a crackling voice shot out like a knife! Someone’s voice repeatedly said over and over that his name was Wes and he was a student at the state university, which was only forty miles away. I went back to the gas station to completely fill up and drove towards the university. I sped like a demon and passed one police car, which, I assume, housed a dead officer. I made it in twenty-twenty five minutes, going about a hundred.

WES
I had been in the station for three days straight now, only taking bathroom breaks and eating the little food that I had in my bag. But I got smart, too. I didn’t just talk, but I started jacking with the equipment and started to record my pleas for help, that way, I could sleep and someone could still hear my voice. I would record onto cassette tapes for 90 minutes at a time, and then take 90 minute naps, and switch tapes. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t oversleep. I had just woken up one day when I heard this car honking.

RHODES
I pulled up to the university, which was as dead as I’d ever seen a college and I started honking my horn driving, really slow. I rolled my windows down to hear something, anything.

WES
I bolted from the station so fast I stumbled over a chair and skinned my knee. I ran out into the open, hoping to find someone, anyone. I heard the honking, but I couldn’t place where it was coming from. I started screaming and yelling. (Lights fade up on RHODES). And then I saw something—
RHODES
-that I never expected to see.

RHODES & WES
People.

RHODES
There were people. Everywhere. Living on the college.

WES
There were students that I had recognized. Professors – my sociology professor was there with his family. Little kids.

RHODES
I mean, I expected some people, but not this many people. Obviously, it’s a college, the probability that people would still be here is pretty high, I suppose. I met with the young man, Wes, who told me that he had been living on campus ever since it started because he didn’t have much of a family back home. He said he had been living there for two months without a lot of food. We had similar stories.

WES
This one guy said that he was from the city and his family was probably already dead. He said his name was Rhodes he heard me on the radio and rushed over here as fast as he could, overjoyed that people still were in this area. We asked around and came to the conclusion that none of the survivors here had died in the last two weeks and that, maybe, the plague was over. Or maybe, it died, if plagues can do that. Basically, it seemed that things were getting back to normal for once. People started going back to their homes. I told them that there was food in my dorm cafeteria and, as expected, people didn’t hesitate to get food. They said that their rationed supply ran out a few days ago.

ALL
And then it dawned on me. Why me? Why am I still alive?

RHODES
I thanked Wes for everything he had done and I rushed back to Monique and Cherub (Lights on MONIQUE go full bright and fade out, quickly) to find them both dead. (Starts to cry) My love…my babies. The two most important women in my life…gone. Out like a flicker of light…

WES
It’s been years since the day I came out from my dorm room. Life has moved on, but it hasn’t gotten any easier.

RHODES
If there is anything I learned from this hellish experience…it’s to not take life for granted. Not now. Not ever. All of the stuff that was on the news before the plague is trivial in retrospect. Life is too fragile to be worrying about what the president is saying or if we should go to war again. I think that a lot of people that died would really like an extra week of life, just to hug their friends (pause) and enemies one last time.

(Lights fade on all.)

[ F I N ]

 


Michael Verderber is a Texas playwright who specializes in writing plays and disjointed poetry.  He has three books – “[nonspace]: theatre off the stage” (Fountainhead P), “Twas the FLOP Before Xmas” and “Still Standing Still” (both Sarah Book P) and has been published by Crab Fat Magazine, The Hourglass Magazine, and others. His plays Libertad and The Problem with Robot Dogs were both staged in New York City and he was the Aug 2014 winner of Playwright’s Express’s “Best Comedy” for his play “GPS” (tie for first) in LA. In August 2017, his monologue will be produced Off Broadway.
He may be reached at zero_untitled_films@yahoo.com

This piece was first published in Ealain Lit Magazine.

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