Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred Sixteen

I returned to my office for the first time since last March when it became clear the grippe reborn had arrived in these parts and was beyond our control. The weeks leading up to that moment had made what occurred seem an inevitability. It was only a matter of when we too would be forced to adopt quarantine protocols. We speculated on the matter constantly in those days – it was hard to focus and get any work done when the whole world seemed to be sliding off its axis.

I recall that one of my coworkers was in the process of moving to Europe with his family. They had to move up their plans by weeks to ensure they could get out of the Greater Dominion and into Europe before everything was shut down and ended up leaving on one of the last flights out as if they were fleeing a war zone. The quarantine protocols had already been enacted here – I was spending my first week working from home – and we never got a chance to say our goodbyes. They were simply gone.

Returning to the office brought back those memories. I was there because I had been drawn for a gift for participating in a charity drive in November. Before I picked it up  I went to my office to grab the few things I had left behind in my hurried packing last March. Shoes, a baseball cap I kept there in case I went for a walk in the summer sun at lunch. The rest – notebooks and pens, a mug and a French press, a water bottle – I left for whenever it is I return.

Everything was more or less as I remember it being. It felt as though I could sit down and start my work as I always did. It was as though the place had been frozen, out of step with time and all that had happened, a well-preserved insect in amber. I found it strange and eerie walking these familiar hallways, my senses heightened, noticing everything. They were largely empty, as they never were when I was at work before, and there were signs warning about the dread lord everywhere.

As I was gathering my things in my office I heard the card reader beep, announcing that someone else was entering our area. The door opened and someone started down the corridor. I was bent over with my back to the door and by the time I looked up the person was already past the doorway, so I only caught a glimpse of their form. A ghostly blur. By the time I made it to the doorway they had turned down the next corridor and were gone.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred Fourteen

The winter cold has arrived in full force this week, the temperature dropping well below zero for the first time this season. I was out for a walk this morning and passed by the river. Already the ice has begun to spread its domain, leaving only a sliver of passage along one shore where the water is free. In some places the water almost looks as though it is slowing, the current ceasing, the streetlights glimmering oddly off it as ice begins to form on the surface.

Yesterday the trees were all clothed in hoar frost, shimmering robes of white that glistened in the sun. Even the sidewalks and other bare spots were coated. It seemed, for a few hours, as though we had entered another world, or some enchantment had been cast upon us all. The sun was bright though and by afternoon the frost had been burned away returning us to the ordinary.

It is snowing now, little specks of flakes appearing, almost as if the cold had conjured them from the air. I watch them hurrying to the ground while the air from the surrounding buildings escapes in rising plumes, dancing in the cold as though it is shivering.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred Twelve

The weather has turned colder after two and half weeks of warm days. But the days are still sunny and bright, the temperature mild for winter. We could not have asked for a more pleasant winter to help us endure the dark, shut-in days of the grippe reborn. There is still a great deal of winter left unfortunately and I am sure that colder days are still to come.

Last week we went into the mountains to spend a few nights in a swanky old hotel, a remnant from the first days when Those Who Came were claiming this country. A strange experience in the midst of the dread lord’s march. The hotel, a vast castle of a place, was largely empty. We had our corner to ourselves and saw only a handful of people the few times we ventured out. Mostly we stayed inside our room, ordering room service and enjoying the glorious mountain views. We sat by a fire outside and drank hot chocolate, wandered the grounds under starlight, and did not have to look at the same walls and views we have had for these last long months.

It was a nice break from what has become a tiring routine. My love, especially was feeling exhausted by work and being trapped by this endless moment. Cabin fever really, a malady that is certainly real in these parts. Among Those Who Came in the early days, after the bitter exile of Those Who Went Away, there were many lone trappers and settlers who went a little mad over those long and lonely winters when the light died and the snow and cold did not relent. It is decidedly not a malady of Those Who Went Away, not then and not now, for they understood what was necessary to survive in these parts and that was a community. Those of us Who Came are still learning that lesson.

We watched the sunrise together, coming over the mountains, the peaks moving from shadow to light, bathed in red and yellow hues, and for a moment we were held still, apart from all the dreariness of the world. Only for a moment, but that was enough.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred and Nine

It is odd to be living in a future you read about, or saw in movies. People often complain about the fact that the wondrous future – flying cars, robots, etc. – predicted in the Jetsons and other golden age science fiction has not come to pass. And it is true that future has not arrived. Progress capitalized has fallen. After this terrible year we know now that there are no guarantees of progress and better lives awaiting us sometime in the future.

But that was never the future of my childhood. I read Gibson, Sterling, Effinger and others, watched Blade Runner. Those are the futures we have received, whether we wanted them or not. Corporations with the power of states, doing what they please for unclear purposes. Cabals of criminals, politicians and businessman barely operating in the shadows, with tentacles seemingly everywhere. Endemic corruption making a mockery of the rule of law.

From the Forever Wars of the United States, fuelled by mercenaries at every level, to Russian and Saudi Arabian assassination squads, to drug cartels and Hollywood executives looking to stifle their secrets, we find ourselves in the time of the covert agent for hire. Our movies and fictions are filled with them, just as spies and government agents populated so much of Cold War art.

Every month seems to bring a new story of some facial recognition tech being piloted by police forces somewhere to further public surveillance of individual citizens. Through the Forever Wars it has become evident that all our communication is swallowed up by some entity, sitting on some server stack somewhere, likely never to be looked at. Hacking has become commonplace, an integral part of warfare, spying and politics. As are drones, which it seems will become ubiquitous soon in our everyday lives.  Artificial intelligence runs finance now and, if one believes the claims of its makers, it will soon be colonize other fields of business.

Information technology and the internet are such fundamental pieces of our lives that we don’t even notice them anymore. Whether it is social media, virtual reality, online meetings, smart phones, etc., etc. the online is just a part of ecosystem, the habitat we live in. We are all cyborgs now, forever connected to computers and machines that we rely on for our existence. Perhaps they aren’t integrated directly into our flesh at the moment, but it seems only a matter of time.

It is not just a cyberpunk now, though. I think of the inoculations that are slowly trickling out into the world to combat the dread lord. His presence in the world, and his obscure origins, are the future too, one constantly imagined. The inoculations, developed using technology that would have seemed fantastical thirty, even twenty years ago, is also the future. In Star Trek it takes an episode to develop a cure for a disease, for us it was not much longer really. A few days in one case. The time has been testing the efficacy of the cures.

Science fiction is never about prediction, it is a way to look at the here and now through a different lens. If those futures have been realized in some way it is only because those writers noticed what was present and possible in the world. The future has always been here. It is up to us whether we choose to see it that way.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred and Seven

They met in a rest station parking lot off the highway, one car from east, one truck from the west. The mountains arched high above, peaks heavy with snow, foreboding and silent. The dim sounds of traffic coming from the highway reached their ears through the stands of pines that encircled the station. Ravens circled above the trees, calling to each other and anyone who could hear them.

They exited their vehicles, gathering in a loose circle. There were five of them, standing uneasily and looking at each other, unsure how close to get. What was allowed and what wasn’t. They shared awkward greetings, comments on the drive. Uneventful for everyone, the roads clear of snow and ice. The day was cold and their breath rose in clouds in front of them. A few of them looked at those clouds and winced, leaning back imperceptibly, resisting the urge to step even further back. Talk shifted to what they had been up to lately. Nothing, said with a wry chuckle.

Cars arrived from off the highway, people hurrying in to use the bathrooms, not wanting to linger outside on a cold day. They barely gave the five a glance, though they always became self-conscious at another car’s approach, shifting their feet and moving about, as if what they were doing warranted scrutiny. When the restrooms were empty each of them went in, one by one.

Gradually their conversation became easier, lighter. There was laughter and smiles. Thermoses of coffee were pulled out and they sipped steaming mugs to ward off the cold. By now it was eating into the their toes and fingers. They stamped their feet and clenched their hands into fists. Someone had a runny nose and kept apologizing for having to wipe it.

The afternoon shadows grew long, the sun descending behind the western peaks. The trees surrounding them looked darker, more ominous, though the ravens had wandered off somewhere. They looked at each other and said their goodbyes, got in their cars and went back out to the highway, heading in opposite directions, returning home.

A raven emerged from somewhere within the trees after they left and settled atop the rest stop building. It turned its head from side to side staring down at the empty parking lot, calling out raucously. There was no answer.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred and Five

The sameness of these days. They have ceased to be strange, or to have any kind of novelty whatsoever. The weather conspires to reinforce this. Winter, thus far, has been mild. Pleasant. Each day is roughly the same temperature, a few degrees above or below freezing, with a few hours of glimmering sunshine in the morning, followed by clouds moving in later in the day.

Any other year I would feel ecstatic at this turn of events. Now I long for something to change the fabric of these days. A cold snap, some snow, or anything really. It is an uneasy feeling, wishing for bad weather and interesting times. There is never a lack of those, in general, and I’m sure someday I will look back on these quiet days with something like longing.

Part of it is the contrast with what is going on elsewhere. The failed insurrection down south, and all the ramifications that have come from it, continue to play out. It is hard to escape talk of it online or elsewhere. There are stories elsewhere of desperate times in the battle against the grippe reborn, of hospitals overwhelmed with the afflicted, of doctors and nurses at their breaking points. We watch all this occurring – all we can do is watch, helpless to effect the current of events in any way, knowing that we shall be living in the consequences of what happens – and wait for days when we might be able to do something. 

Yesterday I went out for a walk in the morning and the lovely morning was disturbed by a sudden gusting of wind. Trees bent, branches rattling, and dirt and detritus were cast about under the tumult. I was walking north when the wind hit from the west and it nearly knocked me off my feet. The wind died as suddenly as it came and I walked on thinking it was past, but it returned again with its same terrible force, carrying with it sleet and freezing rain. Hard pellets lashed my face, stinging my cheeks, and I was soon left soaked.

I walked on through it, letting the rain soak me, the sleet strike me, not bothering to hurry home or take shelter. The sidewalks were quickly treacherous. I did not feel annoyed that I had been caught out in this maelstrom, instead I felt exultant. Here was something different to struggle through and endure, and I knew that eventually it would pass, as it did before I reached home, that it wouldn’t linger on without end.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred and Two

There are few predators remaining in the Lost Quarter. Coyotes and foxes, of course, for they can find their place anywhere in this world it seems, lurking on mankind’s edges, mostly unseen. Nights in the Quarter are filled with their high and lonesome cries, calling back and forth, singing their songs in the quiet of darkness.

Birds of prey as well. One only has to look above any tractor working over a field, trailing a cloud of dust, to see hawks hanging in the air, waiting for what will come scurrying out in its wake. Owls are ever-present, though rarely seen. The signs of their presence are everywhere though. Pellets of feathers and fur at the base of trees. In winter you can see the impressions their wings leave in the snow at the same point where the tracks of some unfortunate mouse or vole comes to an end.

Once wolves, cougar and bear wandered the Quarter, staying mostly to the river valleys but sometimes wandering afield. The arrival of farmers among Those Who Came meant the wolves and bear were hunted and driven back into the mountains. They are not seen in these parts anymore. Nor are cougars, but that is by choice, for they still lurk in the river valleys and other wilder places where game gathers. On the rolling plains of the Quarter they are never seen, for they do not venture where there is not cover.

That is why no one believed a word Old Ryan said  when he told anyone who would listen he had spotted a cougar bounding across the road in front of him not far from Miller’s place. There were jokes about fat tomcats and mutant coyotes, and not a few worried murmurs about whether Old Ryan was going soft in the head, but he remained insistent. “Who would mistake a cat for a cougar?” he said and they had to agree it was unlikely. Not more unlikely than a cougar in the central parts of the Quarter at least two day’s journey from a river valley. The old timers, of which Old Ryan was one, all said they had never heard of a cougar in these parts.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Three Hundred

Three hundred days with the dread lord grippe reborn. I hope there aren’t three hundred more to go but I fear there might be. Our inoculations are coming and I still believe he will be thwarted, but it is a trickle for the moment and our lives are as circumscribed as ever.

I feel exhausted by it. That is nothing new, but there is nothing new to most days. There is a sameness to every morning and afternoon that seeps into me and won’t let go like a damp chill. I don’t feel bleak and despairing or terrified and anxious as I did at times earlier this year, when the unknown of it all seemed to press against me from all corners. I am just tired and longing for all this to be at an end.

Every day they announce where the dread lord struck the day before, updating the numbers and reiterating the care we must take, emphasizing the importance of obeying the quarantine restrictions. The statistics have long since become just numbers disassociated from any kind of tangible measurement. It feels as though I have become disassociated from the very days themselves.

In the early days of the quarantine protocols and our battle with the dread lord these notes provided me with a measure of peace, a way of dealing with a world that felt upended entirely. If I felt terror or sorrow or rage I could express it here and by doing so make the emotions manageable. But as the days have dragged on, and the anxieties and fears have become rote, a part of the fabric of all our days, writing here has failed to ease those feelings. It has become just another thing I do day after day, a piece of the sameness I cannot escape.

I have thought of stopping, but it is an idle thought, given no real consideration. That would mean giving in, surrendering to all that the dread lord has wrought. It seems vaguely pathetic, almost silly, that the greatest struggle I (and so many others) are facing is these grey, endless days when others are sick and dying. How can I complain given I have barely been touched by such suffering. A little bit of boredom can be endured is the thinking.

And it can be, but this is not boredom, or not solely. Living is not just being alive, it is what we choose to do with the days we have, for they are not endless. That is what gives our existence colour and meaning, those things, big and small that we choose to do, and the people we choose to do them with. Every day I feel their vague absence,  like my brain trying to reconnect with a lost limb.

Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Ninety Eight

Gotterdammerung

I somewhat facetiously refer to the United States as the Grand Old Empire, for it is an empire in both scope and deed and has been from its very revolutionary beginnings. Manifest destiny, that expansionist desire, is written in the fabric of all its history. And though its politicians and proclaimants love to declare that it is the oldest and greatest democracy in the world, it has always been more empire than democracy. 250 years of history but only for about 50 or so has every adult been allowed to vote and the elections somewhat free and fair.

I mention this, not out of any smugness, after all the Greater Dominions are cut from the same colonial cloth. The Lost Quarter exists in the aftermath of the Eastern Dominions imperial ambitions and the franchise wasn’t extended fully to Those Who Went Away until well into the 1960s. We tell ourselves stories of our past that are half-truths at best, as any empire must to justify the wrongs it has done.

What happened last week in those United States as their legislative assemblies sought to certify the latest election was shocking, but not surprising. It has felt inevitable since their vain and cruel and incompetent president was elected four years ago. He would never accept defeat, he would never transfer power peacefully. That is who he is and what he has always been.

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Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Ninety Four

This past week we discovered that the leaders who have put in the quarantine strictures in these parts have not felt it their duty to abide by them. Over the past months it has become evident how inadequate their handling of the gripper reborn’s invasion has been. After initially going on a war footing against the dread lord and instituting every measure possible, sparing no expense, they have, since the summer seemed to prefer diminishing the problem and hoping matters would sort themselves out.

The failure of that led to our latest lockdown and the cancelling of holiday festivities for families in the Quarter. But several of our politicians and their staff – 9 thus far – decided those strictures didn’t apply to them. They travelled from the Western Dominion to warm southern climes, as many people do during winters here. They went to places with no restrictions, while leaving us to ours, and offered no excuses for it. These were planned trips, they said, as if thousands of us didn’t have to cancel trips during this long misery. They were family traditions, as if the rest of us didn’t have family traditions that we had to suspend this year.

I was surprised at how angry I felt, how much of a betrayal it seemed. I have, it is safe to say, disagreed with the majority of legislation our current government has implemented since it was elected. The future they envision is not one I see myself in, whether that be in health care, education or industry. Still the feeling there was one of exasperation and annoyance more than anything else. A government I disagreed with was enacting its agenda as it was elected to do.

This was different though. These were not the actions of elected officials responsible to the voters of the Dominion. This was pure entitlement. How could the people who hold public office, with the responsibility to manage our response to the grippe reborn, decide they could do this? It seems they do not care about the people suffering and dying from the dread lord’s terrible powers, nor do they care about the rest of us who have been forced to lead shuttered lives these last months.

I think that is why, in the end, I feel so much anger. Their indifference to the growing spread of the grippe reborn, their lack of urgency in getting inoculations out to people, and their willingness to leave the country during a state of emergency they declared are all symptoms of the same disease. They see themselves not as our representatives in government, responsible to us, but as elites entitled to do as they please. None of us matter to them at all, and that is why they are willing to let so many of us die while carrying on with their lives as if the grippe reborn wasn’t there at all.