One could not imagine until we lived it, how it felt to enter a town whose entire occupants lay prostrate before an invisible power.
When Annabell Trainer and Miguel Vega arrived at the port of Manaus exactly three weeks after Fernando Lollo was expedited to the United States for crimes against humanity, that same city was a ghost town. Except the ghosts were not invisible. The docks were littered with the bodies of men and women, rats, rotting fish and produce, crocodiles, mangy cats, dogs and a zillion flies and other winged marauders taking advantage of the suspension of human defenses against their greedy onslaught. There were cars and trucks occupied by slumped figures stranded at the conclusion of their last doddering destination crisscrossing the roads, ditched in the landscape, penetrating the plastered walls of buildings, and flopped upside down beneath overpasses. Cattle and horses lay strewn about underneath typhoons of insects, giving the impression that they were susceptible to the gnats’ disease as humans. It was a landscape nodding off in mid-sentence, a narcoleptic city fallen asleep in the peak of hustle and bustle.
The Amazon River, however, was running clear. There wasn’t the slightest twinge of the charcoal smoke that normally chokes the air in the buzzing third world, and it was quiet except for the sound of birds.
“If we have not been infected by now, we surely will be soon,” declared Miguel after helping Annabell heave her gear from the floating craft. They had hesitated to land the canoe at first, but decided it was their duty to witness all they could in the wake of Lollo’s scheme.
Waving off the stench, they made landfall and observed through blurring eyes, the evident demise of the human race. They instinctively avoided close encounters with any of the stricken bodies, and moved to a deserted promenade over which only flocks of doves were circling, touching down, dispersing, gathering up again and taking off repeatedly, as they do, like agents of the wind. The bad smell was cut in half by distance.
“This isn’t happening,” Annabell said. She searched her gear for a satellite phone that she hadn’t touched since she left Bogota. She pulled it out of her shoulder bag and paused for a moment.
“Miguel. I need privacy,” she said.
“You need what? This isn’t private enough for you around here already? You’re going to see how much privacy we have when you try and get service on that thing,” he said, flinging a wild jab at a mosquito who’d just browsed his way over. He fled backwards thirty yards in an instant, more to evade the suspect insect than to honor Annabell’s preposterous request.
Annabell punched in a series of numbers on the device and felt her hand tremble as she held it to her ear. The line picked up after the customary dozen rings, but she noted her shakes achieving an interval increase in the next instant. The calm, confident voice that she expected to greet her on the other end was replaced with a recording. Something definitely was happening.
“If you have managed to hear this message you are to cease all ordered activities. Repeat. Do not carry out orders given to you previous to the epidemic. Immediately destroy all tech devices, ordinance, or paper that might incriminate you if you become incapacitated with the epidemic. Remain where you are or return to the nearest station if possible. Repeat. Stay put or return to station. Remain on high alert and await further orders. Regularly attempt contact at this same number. If new orders have not been issued in one hundred days’ time, make every effort to return to central headquarters and file a report on all activities to date if security at headquarters appears uncompromised. Proceed with maximum caution. Regret extenuating circumstances which force this message to be recorded. Confirmation code: Boys of Summer. Good Luck. Regards, Bluebird. End of message.”
Annabell stashed the phone in her bag. Miguel, between dummy punches at the angel of death, noticed Annabell sitting down on the pavement minus the phone and returned to her side and resumed shooing insects, real and imagined, away from both of them.
“This baby is luck,” she said massaging her stomach.
“I wish I could share your hope Annabell, but we languish here at the end of time.”
“Yeah, well, maybe we don’t know how lucky we are,” Anabell said colliding with what, from her sense of right and wrong, would have to be purged before this could be absolutely true.
“Maybe so, maybe no, but it is so much good fruit in a rotten basket now,” said Miguel clapping his hands threateningly at the air.
It was a moment that would not wait—a potent shift in her destiny that roiled beneath the edge off which she was about to jump. What if she told him everything? Would it give the baby the best chance? She thought it would. Those lies could back up so far, they’d smother the unspoiled, fresh life sewn inside her. As this dawned on her, an essence of dread distilled itself into a metallic taste on the sides of her tongue. Her tongue, the organ of her regular—but not her most infamous—deceits was feeling its shame. There were no such symptoms of guilt bubbling up from that other region yet. Annabell didn’t know if this was because she expected to exonerate her entire self with a frank confession to her intended victim now, or because her vagina felt rightful and would be satisfied to never have the story of its betrayals told to anyone.
Whereas her tongue had been outright counterfeit, her pussy had only been cunning, a skill developed long before the tongue’s vice and one perfected, not originally for personal advancement, but out of sheer obligation to Annabell’s own survival from a very early age. In the end, Annabell reasoned, it was no use stalling with such ponderances.
“Miguel, I have, until this minute, been working for the CIA. I have been planted in the middle of Frank Matel’s milieu to assure that he does not discredit the Agency with the truth about Lollo or any other story.”
Miguel’s arms finally stopped flailing for a minute.
“Ay Dios! I knew it. I didn’t know why, but I don’t like you. You framed Frank Matel, you puta.” He took a threatening step in her direction. “I should strangle you right here and now.”
Annabell stood firm. “You might offer me the same courtesy I have extended you; I was authorized to derail your mission at any cost.”
“See, you are a killer. No wonder I don’t trust you.” He allowed his falsely intimidating manor to dissolve into a shamingly intimidated one.
“I never killed, but I am qualified. I would not have killed you or Frank either, just waylaid you until Santisteven and Lollo were apprehended.”
“And if you couldn’t succeed in waylaying either of us?”
“It was never a question in my mind.”
“Did you know that we were coming to this?” he said gesturing toward the bodies littering the landscape.
“Absolutely not. Obviously you knew before anyone did.”
“If you had not interfered, Frank and I might have prevented it.”
“Get the facts straight, Miguel, you’re a journalist. Lollo spun you out of orbit, I didn’t have to.”
“But the Octopus, first of all, is he not in jail, and second, did you not put him there?”
“I don’t know what happened to land Frank in jail. I was supposed to stay in the middle of the action and try and convince him to postpone the article for the sake of national morale. They’re truly afraid of him, my bosses in Virginia. Carson Barnes himself appeared out of nowhere. They put double duty on him, which I don’t understand because I was in complete control…but maybe not, as I look back. This is Frank’s child I am carrying. At the time, I only knew that with Frank in jail, my stewardship shifted to you.”
“Everyone conveniently does your work for you, so you are innocent. Do you expect me to believe it? After all, Ms. Trainer, as you bluntly reminded me, I am a journalist.”
“Put it together for yourself Miguel, but step out of the frame for a second. Hasn’t the Octopus taught you a goddamned thing? I was under no pressure from you to tell you any of this. What would be the motive to show you my web if I were still trying to ensnare you?”
“What difference does it make why you’re telling me, puta? Do you think I’m going to live to tell it to someone who gives a shit? We aren’t getting out of here. We’re going to die, right here on top of the ground, the liar and the truth teller in the same disgrace, if not today, then tomorrow or the next. Who cares if the puta bird sings?”
“All I want is to be a good mother even if I have been a bad person. Even if I don’t carry to term, I don’t want this child poisoned in the womb by my past. I’ve changed. It’s not too late to change.” Annabell’s head drooped below her shoulders. Her voice quavered and her eyes turned watery. She began coughing out deep, bitter sobs. Miguel stood there and gave her the courtesy of his silence until her tears subsided. When she was finished he answered her.
“Yes, it’s too late to change,” Miguel said, turning away from her. “It’s finally too late to change for any of us.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked off down the Amazon.
Annabell’s gaze imitated his and they momentarily enmeshed with the extraordinary stillness of the busiest river port of the upper Amazon held in thrall by an abstract administrator. There was something undeniably hopeful about the cessation of activity that she was witnessing. It would not allow her to succumb to Miguel’s morbid conclusion. Could this possibly be the scene in every corner of the inhabited earth? Then again, if she felt herself lying down against her wishes any time soon, the balm on her nerves could turn helter skelter in a wink.
But for now, somehow, she was immune to despair, she and her unborn good luck charm.
“Maybe you’re right,” she said, “and we are doomed. Either way I am sorry for what I have done to you. I believe I would say this even if we had not found this end. I think I can honestly say it is not the epidemic that has changed me, but my pending motherhood, and perhaps Xiento’s medicine, and the trip down the river was significant as well.” Miguel made a one-eighty and they looked each other in the face. Her’s was undeniably sincere, his gave no indication.
“Why does everyone confess to me?” he said and turned away again, but not in time to conceal the softening of his position against her. “Santisteven drove me up a wall. I should have been a priest.”
“Don’t wish it away,” said Annabell. “It’s more useful to be a journalist.”
“Nothing is useful anymore,” he said, “unless you can raise the dead.” Annabell rose to her feet.
“I’ve had enough of your somber defeat. I’m going to investigate even if there’s a snowflake’s chance in a bonfire that I might learn something that you haven’t considered. You don’t even have solid proof that this is Lollo’s doing, nor that it is worldwide in scale. You may lay down and let death overtake you without a fight if you wish. I’m going to see what there is to see.” She turned toward the center of town and began walking. Miguel watched her a moment and then caught up.
“Out of respect for the Octopus’s unborn child, I will accompany you and watch over you as long as I am able.”
“That’s very loyal of you,” she said without stopping or looking at him. “I’m scared shitless, are you?”
“Yes,” he said, “and grief-stricken.”
Annabell and Miguel soon learned that many of the bodies were still occupied by the living. They lay prone in every quarter, gone limp in the middle of whatever action in which they were last engaged. Imagine daily life, anywhere on the planet that humans concentrate themselves for convenience, compelled in some karmic siesta, with no regard for their comfort or proximity to home. They just lay there, urine- and shit-soiled, sun-burned, rain-drenched, insect infested, rat pestered, unable to move. Some were conscious, or perhaps semi-conscious is the better description, but very much aware on some level. It turned out to be a level where they could not be reached, at least not significantly, or for very long, like a person absorbed in delirium. Annabell spent an hour trying to make a young woman wake up or to tell her what happened. The woman remained aware of them, of her surroundings, but uninterested. Annabell finally accepted the obvious. Their focus was monopolized by something invisible, and there were many, many like her. Some could string together audible words, but made no sense to Annabell nor Miguel. Whatever these people were conscious of was deeply engrossing and deeply personal. Many also had a pulse, but were unable to respond or be aroused to coherence. Others were undeniably dead. Miguel rationally assumed that they were encountering individuals in varying stages of the progress of the disease. Annabell was not inclined to draw any limiting conclusions.
At the end of an afternoon of wandering to and fro through the streets of Manaus they were tired, succumbing to the mass misery to which they bore witness. By nightfall they had gravitated toward an affluent neighborhood, taken showers under a handpump in a park, then found, by good fortune, an empty house in which no one lay dead or afflicted; it was up for sale. They raided the neighbor’s pantry and made a meal. Both of them were too upset to eat much, but Anabell forced herself for the sake of the baby. They made for sleep on cushions taken from the neighbor’s sofas in the awkward austerity of an electricityless modern home. Annabell lay on her partitioned mattress, recalled her experience in Xiento’s camp. There, amid the most primitive comforts, electricity would have not only seemed out of place, but would have been unwelcome. She never missed it nor thought of it. But in the four square eminence of a civilized dwelling, the lack of power exposed it as the deprived, dysfunctional box it is, whose inhabitants are trapped inside, at night, rather than sheltered, and whose willingness to accept the compromise in the sanctity of home, spills into every other area of their lives unimpeded and unchallenged. Annabell thought that there was something worthwhile in this recognition in spite of the fact that Miguel was probably right and they were destined to collapse and expire in obscurity with the rest of the world. The thought—though it had disturbed her that morning, because she wanted more than anything she ever had, to meet the person growing inside her belly—was still frightful to her now, even after having examined the inhabitants of Manaus. They did not seem to be suffering even though many of them chaffed with rash and sunburn. Lack of food and water did not seem to distract them. In fact, if Annabell could reconcile it with the conundrum that a significant percentage of them were deceased, she would dare to say they didn’t seem to be dying at all, but simply dwelling elsewhere, in the normally unused regions of the brain, in some ethereal sub-terrain. Maybe they were sojourning in a similar place that bears and bees hibernate in winter. If this malaise did lead to ultimate dissolution, it seemed to leave time for putting things in order at least on some level. Still, Annabell was not comfortable with the idea that she might be going to sleep to life as she knew it, and might awaken the next day with her volition over all things physical revoked. It would be emotional torture to experience the person she was nurturing inside her, slowly shriveling in dehydrated starvation because Annabell was unable to get up and nourish herself.
She decided to eat as much as possible. No matter how absurd it sounded, she decided to store up enough food and water in her body to get her unborn child to the other side of whatever this was. Amid these unsettling thoughts, exhaustion finally overcame her. She had nothing left with which to oppose sleep and it finally ravaged her vigilance.
Miguel had been acutely aware of the sound of buzzing insect wings ever since he found out about Lollo’s micro monster. He considered it one of his front line defenses to help him prevent—and if not prevent at least delay—the consequences of their deadly bite. Since he’d arrived in Manaus it had been an overwhelming task.
Miguel had also resisted sleep, not knowing what might bring on his ultimate surrender. He felt compelled to write everything that had happened that day, as he had been doing for weeks, and when he was finished he began writing everything he had never had time to write but had always wanted to. There were letters to his wife Sylvia and children Vincente and Paula, one to an uncle, his mother’s brother, Savero, who had been like a second father to him, who sold the best blankets in Colombia. Savero would go from town to town and employ a local peon to soak one of his blankets in the river then bring it to the plaza and roll himself up in it. Then Uncle Savero would fire a pistol at the man in the blanket and the blanket was so strong it would repel the bullet. This sensational presentation made Miguel’s uncle very popular and fairly well-to-do, since he bought the blankets for next to nothing from the Indios. Miguel wrote Savero to tell him how proud he had been as a child of the uncle with the bulletproof blankets and how he was still proud of him and missed him very much. He missed his whole family desperately. He wrote to his wife and children apologizing for his decision to become a journalist which ultimately caused this separation at a time when they should be together. He wept, imagining all those he loved falling down, deceased, or weak and addled into lunacy by Lollo’s menace. Feeling nearly insane with the weight of what he was left behind to witness, he wrote his brother Jesus and sisters Josephina, Carolina, and Marta. Then he began writing letters to people who had passed on before this catastrophe, some of them long ago. His grandmother Prudencia who had spoiled him with story books and delicacies from her kitchen. His grandfather Aurrelio who was four feet six inches tall and so insecure about it that he took offense at nearly everything his wife said to him. They fought bitterly all their married life. Aurrelio used to climb on the counters to get face to face with her. He even jumped off the roof onto Prudencia’s back one time to try and get the upper hand.
He wrote his great grandfather Moises, whom he knew only from early childhood, but felt a new found affinity with. He was writing them as though he would soon be calling on them for a visit: his great uncle Tomasio, who taught him billiards and gave him his first taste of cigars and brandy; his father’s sister, Aunt Gertruda, whom he had never met, because she ran off with a Gaucho to Argentina and was never heard from again; his favorite professor at university, Senor Alberto Coseleon, who had taken a personal interest in Miguel and pointed him towards his profession with the twin beacons of personal integrity and scholarship.
Miguel was determined to outrun his fatigue and sail over the dark seas of sleep in his raft of paper using his pen for a mast and words as his sail. He was planning to write Frank Matel a letter of personal thanks for being a great example to journalists all over the world. Because he was terrified of sleep, he wanted to write the Presidents of Colombia, the United States, Nicaragua, Panama, Fidel Castro, and the Pope. He thought he was holding his own pretty well when had begun an essay on the North’s corruption of the economics, religion, and culture of South America, but shortly after finishing the part about the exploitation and unfair distribution of natural resources, the sail grew slack and the little boat was becalmed an hour before morning dawned in the western hemisphere.
Annabell awoke and made quick inventory of her faculties. Grateful for every second of freedom, she was soon on her feet and stripped naked, scrutinizing herself in a mirror. She knew the chance for success of her scheme was trifling, but the only alternative was to give up, which her instinct to protect and nurture would not permit. She looked at her body like a lifeboat. As a craft or vessel, in which her unborn child might journey beyond pandemonium. A giggle escaped her lips as she looked at the obverse of her expertly crafted self-image in the mirror. A currency exchange was taking place. A 20 dollar gold piece happily traded for a plug nickel.
For a seductive vixen, her body was perfect, save the bulge at her navel. Her long legs, soft shoulders, pert breasts, formerly flat tummy and hemispheric bottom were about to undergo a paradigm shift. The form had been both an asset and a liability all her life. It had bought her admiration, protection and, above all, privilege. But it had made her self-conscious, guarded and finally coldly calculating in response to the ravaging eyes and genitalia of every man from among the power elite in Washington, to the most derelict creatures of the street. She felt a sense of relief that this part of being beautiful would plague her no longer. She was cashing all this in to become a food warehouse for the future of a tiny time traveler. She used the mirror as a crystal ball to try and capture a glimpse of that future. What would the little elf need for its journey? Potential time constraints made such strategizing important. She saw that as a human pantry, she had room to expand in all regions. It was urgent to begin stocking her body, immediately, like a bunker against pending shortages. If Miguel was right, there was no time to waste.
Before setting out in search of provisions, Annabell looked in on Miguel. She saw him sprawled on the floor with a palette of hand written white papers beneath him. She allowed herself a moment to free associate. The buddha of lassitude collapsed on a many petaled lotus, she mused, a frog on a lily pad, or a man adrift on a tiny raft. It was necessary for the preservation of her own sanity to subjectify the event. She did not even bother to wake him, to see if he was still all of himself. There wasn’t time. If he was afflicted, she could do nothing about it. At least he was out of the sun and elements. She could be next, so she went out and began pilfering her way up and down the streets of the well-to-do of Manaus.
She ate as she went, and also collected sacks and filled them with provisions for what may come later in case there was a later, giving priority to fats, proteins and carbohydrates, in that order and soaking up as many fluids as she could manage as well.
Palm oil was to be found in every kitchen, she slathered everything with it. She did not take time to cook, as she was not eating for pleasure. She opened cans and devoured their entire contents as methodically as a trash compacter. There were olives and condensed milk, oxtail soup and smoked fish, guava puree and head cheese, consume and pork knuckles, pickled hens’ eggs, fish eggs, and turtle meat, tapir meat, plantains in coconut milk, and a little treat she had to stop herself from going overboard with called Dulce de Leche. She bravely ate them all, marveling at the things that came canned in this foreign land. She only stopped to massage her stomach and allowed herself a little breather here and there to let things settle before going on to the next house. She never sat down, except on the toilet.
She did not mind when she grew nauseous. Nor that she had to vomit periodically when her digestion could not keep up.
“Occupational hazard,” she said as she rinsed her mouth and began again. It was not as disgusting as it would have been in nearly any other social setting. She was not being compulsive but strategic. She was not intentionally practicing gluttony, obsession, bulimia, insatiability or any other self-destructive tendency. She did not see herself numbing out, densing-up, avoiding problems, manufacturing self-protective layers of fat, extending false boundaries, attempting to satisfy an unfulfilled intimate necessity, covering over emotional scars, trying to fill a bottomless pit of need, swallowing secrets, expressing sideways rage at her lover, hiding her beauty, hiding behind a neurosis, punishing herself, abusing herself, cleaning her plate, placating an over nurturing mother, thinking of the starving children in Africa, reacting to past deprivation during the Depression, POW camp, being lost in the wilderness, or Appalachian malnourishment. Nor was Annabell getting high on endorphins. She was just doing what she could to provide a future to a child she may never know.
After condensing as much nourishment into her body as she thought humanly possible in one day, Annabell slung two large duffels of parlayed food over her shoulders and made her way back toward the handpump in the park for a shower. The specter of the paralyzed inhabitants of Manaus strewn about like confetti after a parade was nearly overpowering. With effort she was able to concentrate on small, consoling pleasures, like how quiet it was for a city, and how the birds were so lively, and she saw monkeys and a dog frisking with each other, and big lizards out on the shady sides of the houses. With the dominant species out of commission, the rest of the natural world had relaxed for the time being. With this psychological equivalent of elbow grease, Annabell was able to zigzag between, or step over the bodies of the few dead, and majority apoplectic, without shattering to pieces. She let a cascade of water temporarily wash it all away. Her strong right arm in perpetual motion while she lingered under its pulsing surge until she felt some relief from the profound heat that had radiated through to her bones by the time the tropic sun was setting. She drip dried all the way back to the house where she’d slept the night before, her curiosity about the condition of Miguel intensifying as each step drew her nearer.
When she arrived Miguel had not moved an inch and she knew it could mean only one thing. As she approached him she saw the letters and the essays that formed his lily pad and the thought passed through her mind that she should gather them up and post them for him. Just one example of how hard it is to allow changes of such dramatic proportions to affect adjustments in the minds of us who are reliant on our routines.
“Miguel?” He did not respond, but he, like most of the others, was not dead. She put both hands behind his neck and lifted his head. “Miguel, it’s Annabell.”
Miguel’s eyes opened and seemed to recognize her for an instant. Then, it was as if a curtain was drawn over them. They remained open but they were watching something she could not see.
“Miguel, I want to help you if there’s anything I can do. Can you hear me?” He just lay there with his eyes fixed on something, something very absorbing, finally they closed completely and Annabell could keep hers open no longer either. And she was fast asleep at once, unable to hear Miguel when he said,
“Then, what?” But what difference would it have made? None.
Annabell awoke several hours later. It was dark. When she remembered where she was, she whimpered. The odd contents of her stomach refused to blend and be digested. Sleep had been a welcome relief from the stark ordeal on this side. If only it were the other way and this was the dream. Thus she tampered with her emotions till they were unable to obstruct her from figuring out what to do. She bent her mind into research mode. She wanted to know more so she could prepare herself, hoping with little grounds to dodge the plague, or even outfox it for a while.
“Miguel, what is it like?” He looked right at her again. He seemed to recognize her, but then clouded over again. She asked again, “Miguel tell me something.” Again his consciousness came forward for a split second to meet hers, then receded. It was like he was underwater and with effort he could resurface, but only for a moment.
“Miguel Vega!” she shouted. Annabell watched intently this time. There he was acknowledging her presence, there he went back down like a drowned man. She could almost perceive the brocade of visions closing in from the margins of his normal sight.
“Miguel, are you hallucinating?” she asked.
“Are you hallucinating?” she repeated. There was no immediate reply. Annabell sat back and reached into her duffel. She pulled out a can of sardines, peeled back the lid and began eating with her fingers. She had learned little more from this encounter with Miguel, than what she already knew about the mysterious illness from the people on the street. She sat and munched the bony fish slowly and carefully, contemplating her next course of action. With uncertain intent, she dangled a sardine in front of Miguel’s nose. He showed no particular shift in awareness. As she pulled the morsel back to place it in her own mouth, a drop of oil in which the fish had been preserved, dripped and landed on Miguel’s lip. To Annabell’s surprise Miguel’s tongue went directly to it, conveyed it to his palette and he swallowed. She didn’t really care whether he was hallucinating anyway. Why hadn’t she thought before to ask what she really wanted to know.
“Can you eat, Miguel?” No answer.
Annabell placed a small flake of sardine in Miguel’s mouth. He swallowed but he did not chew and he seemed to lack the motor skills to get it to the back of his throat. Then came the unpleasant task of retrieving the tidbit so it wouldn’t find its way down Miguel’s breathing passage. All the time she did this Miguel flagged, as in a coma. He neither helped nor hindered her. She went back to giving him drops of fish oil and he swallowed each time. She was excited by this discovery. She couldn’t tell whether Miguel was doing it voluntarily or as a reflex. It didn’t matter. Deliberate or otherwise, it still got sustenance down the throat. Annabell was formulating a plan out of what shards of hope she could salvage from the hopeless conditions in which she found herself. She wasn’t performing this experiment because she was concerned with keeping Miguel alive. He was her Guinea pig. She couldn’t know either way, but if those on the streets of Manaus were dead from dehydration or starvation because they couldn’t take care of themselves, she might do something to avoid it herself, so her baby might be born. Her next thought brought her to a decisive course of action. There was apparently no one able bodied in Manaus to feed and water Annabell if she fell ill with the disease. So she must leave Manaus. She had no evidence yet to suggest that this epidemic was widespread. Unless you count the cryptic message in her attempt to reach Bluebird. That was inconclusive anyway. The phone message from Bluebird, foreboding though it was, left some room for hope. In all its peripatetic bureaucracy, the words “file report” meant that at least someone else felt that it was not impossible to survive this “epidemic.” Annabell felt compelled to walk this wire of chance, one step at a time, no matter how thin it was, until it either delivered her baby into safety or disappeared completely beneath them.
She knew where to find healthy people, unless something drastic had happened overnight. There were many villages on their way down river where people were carrying on normally. All she had to do was to return in the direction from which she came. She thought of Xiento. She’d trust him to take care of her. He’d been her salvation once already. The solution was so feasible, at once, she felt the mandibles of danger cease snapping at her heals. All she had to do was go back. It wouldn’t be difficult to appropriate a boat down at the docks. It might be unpleasant if she had to pitch a dead person overboard or drag a zombie on land, so she could be alone on her mission, but that was not going to stop her.
Then there was the fact that she’d never driven a motor boat, wasn’t sure how to get back to Xiento’s tributary, and would be travelling upriver instead of down, which meant she might need to find fuel and who knows what. Where there were boats, there was fuel, etc. There was no shortage of them anywhere on the Negro above Manaus. She had seen that with her own eyes. She could always keep trading boats if the epidemic was in a full stampede. She didn’t overwhelm herself with the thought that she was the only one left standing in an entire city who’d fallen to the gnat’s poison. The only reason she allowed for the fright that was progressing through her gut was its firm reminder to stay on purpose.
“Miguel. I have to go now,” Annabell said leaning her face over his. “I’m leaving Manaus. I have to.” She waited several minutes for any sign of cognition from Miguel while she sorted through conflicting feelings about setting off without him. Of course taking him with her and nursing him until she got someone to take care of both of them, was out of the question. It would slow her down and it may do no good anyway. That was the snare of her predicament. If she believed that she could stay alive with the help of someone willing to nurse her, then it followed that she was abandoning Miguel to certain death by leaving without him. If she dismissed that with the excuse that it was a long shot whether it would help either of them to be nursed anyway, that would mean it was futile for her to leave. She had to get out of there. Such thoughts took precious time.
“So long, Miguel,” she said but with a twang of loneliness in her breast. She slung a food duffle over each shoulder and walked out into the rising sun.
“Then, what?” said Miguel, but Annabell never heard. Every other hour or so for a good while, the same words echoed into the null and void of that barren place.