15 May 2022

What could go wrong?

FLU SEASON - a pandemic novel, part 4

We have all been through it, whatever 'it' may be: the lockdowns, the protesting, the looting, the shortages of food and supplies, the worry, the fear, the numbness of being helpless. It is the stock footage of most "post-apocalypse" novels and films. And our reality the past couple of years - and others back through time when things just didn't seem too good and people had to deal with their world.

When I started to write a 'pandemic' novel during the first lockdown period, thinking I could fill my time best that way (while teaching virtual classes for the second half of the semester), I realized my first mistake: trying to write about the very thing I was living through. It all seemed surreal to me and other sci-fi writers who had been through it before via stories we'd read. I did manage to start planning what became my pandemic novel FLU SEASON and, two years in, I've now completed it.

The first thing I did was think of what could happen in the actual situation around me. I refused to go full Mad Max or, as a working title, the A Boy and His Dog film version of a post-apocalypse situation. For us, it was a virus, hence pandemic (rather than, say, a nuclear holocaust) that shook up everything. But I didn't want to get into discussions of disease and health care, so I didn't want my main characters to be medical or science people but ordinary citizens.

So as society broke down around them, what would they observe? I imagined going two ways:

Less Freedom to move about, to purchase or otherwise obtain needed items such as food, water, fuel, medical supplies, toilet paper, weapons and ammunition.

2) More Freedom to move about, breaking into stores and homes, taking whatever was desired or needed, ruling the streets through might and fright, making your own laws. 

I suspected most people would fall into the first category. They would obey the laws, the mandates, the changing customs as best they could...until they stopped and refused to go further, at which time they would either revolt or succumb to hopelessness and death. Or they would flee a worsening situation - which makes a better story. Have an escape plan! At what point will you 'pull the trigger' and run away from all you have in the world for the lonely trek through a lawless landscape?

Those in the second category would get right on it, exercising their newfound command of the streets, law enforcement too strained to respond to everything. In films we typically see rioting, people protesting their mistreatment, demanding justice, eager to fight each other for a piece of soylent green or worse: actual, unprocessed meat. They would be less concerned for what may be corrupting the environment than those people in the first category.

But let's go with the people in the first category: They flee the harsh and dangerous city. They have a plan: go to the grandparents' farm to wait out the pandemic. It will be safe there. If they must, they can eat the farm animals. Then the story becomes what happens along the way. Unlike A Boy and His Dog, where our heroes traverse an empty nuclear wasteland, in FLU SEASON the trip out of the city is full of traffic jams and fighting among people trying to leave - but they know this will happen and so take to the lesser roads, winding through the rural areas where everything seems as it should be. You could almost forget there is a pandemic ravaging the world.

What can happen on the journey? We might first worry about our vehicle and its fuel, which will run out eventually and not be replaceable. Full tank to start with full cans in back as spares. Even electric vehicles will fail when charging stations (assuming there are any far from a city) are no longer supplied with electricity from power plants. You stock up and take food and drink and other supplies with you, but these will run out as you use them up. You will need to stop for restroom breaks - but what will be open given the situation? And would you trust this odd toilet during a pandemic? Drinking fountains and bathroom faucets would most likely be turned off - as many were from the start of the pandemic, discouraging people from sharing them. 

So far, it's not too different from the usual road trip. However, you are out on the road, where help is not too easy to come by. And even the 'help' may be dangerous: yes, there are good cops and bad cops, but which will you get when the lights flash and you pull over? They can do whatever they wish with you - especially with new laws regarding vaccination cards and face masks giving new excuses to harass travelers. Meanwhile, rioters, looters, and other criminals run rampant in the city but not so much in the rural areas. That doesn't mean the rural areas are safe: country folk may have their own ideas of right and wrong and see a lone vehicle as an opportunity to "get me some o' that".

Basically, you have one shot to make your escape: one fuel supply, one day on the road, hoping not to encounter anyone because you don't know if any of them is safe (not infected) or dangerous (violent). You must assume everyone is a threat. You think you can handle whatever may come at you but you have your teenage son with you. And you have your precious heirloom tuba that you'd rather not let get harmed. But you can make it to your parents' farm, expecting to find comfort from a difficult life in the city, and not what you actually find when you finally arrive there.

Then you'll need a new plan, one which takes you into even more dangerous territory....

NEXT: Setting up a New Community (a.k.a. Let's rebuild society in our own perverted style)

(C) Copyright 2010-2022 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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