I was in the quarantine, but I didn’t have a quarter. I had a few dimes and some nickels but needed a quarter. There was only one soda machine in this wing of the facility. It was an old machine that hadn’t been updated, and the drinks only cost sixty-five cents. I couldn’t believe my luck!
“Can you spare a quarter? I already have the dimes.”
The man leaning against the machine had his arms wrapped around his belly. He looked at me with his head cocked. Then he leaned forward and spit up blood all over his own shoes.
“Even a nickel would help,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it takes nickels.”
We were in a bright white room. All around me, people were lying on pool chairs and sterilized cots. Some of them were crying or wailing. There were several roaring fans above, helping to drown out the sounds and recycle the air.
I was getting nervous because soon the men in the hazmat suits would come in and make us all move to the other wing. They did this about once a day. After we were shuffled off, they would hose everything down to get all the blood and dark bits of organs off the walls. There was a huge drain in the middle of the floor. I’m not sure where everything went.
The other wing looked pretty much the same as this wing, except it was painted baby blue instead of eggshell white. I didn’t know if they had a soda machine in the other wing, but I didn’t want to chance it. I couldn’t believe how thirsty I was. It felt like my insides were shriveling up. I could’ve drank up a whole sea if only someone would’ve let me!
“That thing isn’t stocked,” an old woman said in a nasty voice.
“What do you mean?” I was starting to feel dizzy. I sat down on an empty metal crate.
“Do you see anyone coming in to restock it?” She hacked into her hands. “None of those bastards want to come near us. All we can do now is pray.”
“No!” I said, standing up and backing away. It was true my luck wasn’t going so well recently, but I needed something to hold onto.
I walked towards the sealed door. I was getting sicker and starting to spit up parts of my insides. There were guards on both sides of the glass and metal doors, each holding back a large dog. The guard on this side had a mask over his face.
“Dear God, get back!” he yelled. The sound was muffled by the mask and sounded almost like a whisper.
“Do you know if the machine is stocked?”
“Please don’t come near me, please.” His eyes were bug-eyed behind the plastic visor. His face was smooth and beardless. He couldn’t have been much older than me.
“I only want to ask about the machine.”
“Ah!” He let go of the growling dog, which sprung on me and slid its teeth right down to the bones in my arm. I fell back on the cold floor. I felt too weak to even cry. When I looked up, the dog was shaking my hand back and forth in front of my face as if trying to wave goodbye.
I was taken to a smaller white room. My body was strapped to a stretcher. There weren’t any doctors around. A priest was leaning over me, reciting muffled words. He had a gas mask strapped above his collar.
I felt so dry inside, but everything I coughed up was thick and wet.
“I know it is painful, but you are one of the lucky ones. You will be going to a better place. A magic place that is free from pain and sin and all the horrors of this world.”
“Please,” I said. My voice was tiny. “Something to drink.”
“You won’t be thirsty much longer, my child.”
I turned away and sadly spat a little blood on the paper sheet. I didn’t think this priest knew anything about lucky ones. My luck had always been bad. When I was born, it was weeks too early and they stuck me in a plastic box under electric lights. I grew up in the country with no neighbors my age. At school, older boys hit me and girls made fun of my nose and lisp. I was always lonely and angry. I finally got lucky with a girl, a short girl with pitch-black hair named Jessica. We first kissed in the hallway during biology class. Two days later the plague hit. Now my arm was mush and I was going to die thirsty and alone.
I hoped I hadn’t spread my bad luck to Jessica. I hadn’t seen her in the quarantine.
“You don’t know how much I envy you,” the priest was saying. “Just remember that this is all a part of God’s plan. Even if we mere humans can’t understand it, every moment of this was planned to a T.”
He patted my hair with a rubber glove. Some of the hairs fell out with the stroke.
I was feeling weak and sleepy. I closed my eyes. In my dream, the doctors got lucky and found a cure. It had been right under their noses the whole time. One of them smashed through the metal doors and injected the savior right into my neck.