by Tamara Wilhite
Nyssa coos once in a while and is waving
her tiny fists at me. I never thought I’d be a parent, but here she is.
It’s a pity her parents are dead.
Jacob has locked us in one of the isolation
units and said I would have to stay in here with Nyssa for at least a month, maybe more. He said he had been infected and
hence could not join us. He never explained how he knew that he was infected; nobody had a reliable test before someone got
sick. And there’s no guarantee that I’m not infected. Nyssa herself might be infected from maternal exposure if
she isn’t actually innately immune … and could infect me if I wasn’t already.
There are enough supplies and power and
such to keep us alive in isolation for a few months, but we're completely alone. Jacob's note suggested we go to the summer
cabin, so our isolation won’t end when we leave the enclosure. He swore he’d come back to at least check up on
us, make sure the riots didn’t reach us. But he never came back. I dream of us at the cabin, him there waiting for us.
The area is so remote and far from roads that no one should bother us. Assuming I can find it.
I can’t believe I haven’t written
anything for so long. I’ve ripped out pages for kindling enough times. I find myself wondering sometimes: life would
be easier if I’d left her behind. Easier to travel. Easier to find what is needed for day by day. Yet I find myself
taking risks for her that I guess I might have taken for my own offspring. Kids that I don’t think I’ll ever have
because I avoided others who might not tolerate Nyssa’s existence … kids are seen as an unnecessary or unwanted
burden when even the adults have trouble staying alive themselves.
The exertion shouldn't be so draining in
this mountain air. It took six weeks of lobbing a baby across the city to find a vehicle that didn’t have dead people
in it. Another two months of finding supplies and roads that weren’t blocked. We finally got to Jacob’s cabin
refuge about a year after we started. I hope that it is just the travel catching up with me.
Nyssa is starting to take an interest in
gardening when I do it. She asked me about the hybrid flowers I was trying to get going, "Why do we plant these if none of
"These are the seeds from the few that survived
last year. Some should make it. Then we'll plant their seeds next year."
“Can we eat these?”
With all the leftover military rations,
the fresh produce didn’t really matter. One day, she might have to raise her own food. Or find it. Nyssa smiled broadly,
her bright white teeth contrasting vividly against her dark skin. For a moment, she could have been a clone of her mother,
though she acted more like her father. Then we headed in.
I checked the solar water heater. Then comes
checking the wind pump we rely on for water before heading in. Concrete floors are softened by bamboo mats. Stone walls made
less harsh by occasional art work from before we ran out of paper. The dim fluorescent lights fed by solar cells came on.
This was a good place to be when the power went out.
Jacob would have been proud to know that
his brief period of eccentricity and eco-friendly engineering had done us well. We are self-sufficient. Without him. Without
the children we’d hoped to have inherited the place. Yes, there’s Nyssa. But she is a reminder of the parents
that died along with billions of others. And of the genetic resistance she possessed by pure luck in the genetic lottery.
Immunity I now know I do not possess.
How long do I have? I had been exposed somewhere
at some time. Now I’ve taken every precaution not to be exposed to any other diseases. Our isolation helps, as does
being so rural. I have to hold on as long as possible in order to raise her to a point where she could survive on her own.
I wonder about fate. An Immune infant is just as dead as an infected one if there’s no one to take care of it. If I
hadn’t been there to visit Haoke, if I hadn’t taken the child from the hospital when the death notice was given,
if Jacob hadn’t caught up with me and saved us both … Even Jacob just wanted to save me, not carrying one way
or the other about Nyssa.
Later entry, same day:
Nyssa finally asked. "I don't look like
you, Aunt Tasha."
I knew the question would come up eventually,
but none of the answers thought up over the years seemed sufficient. "We're not related."
"My parents are dead. You told me once."
"Your parents made me and ... your guardian
before they died so that someone they knew would take care of you."
"What were they like?" Her eyes were bright
"They were friends of mine for years. Your
mother was Haoke Reeves. She was a science teacher. Your father was Nigel Lewis. He was an electrical engineer.” Then
I remembered that the power had been off as long as she could remember. “He kept the lights on.” Again, out of
my old habits and not in her experience. “You look more like your mother, though."
“They had two names?"
"Well, they had their first names - Nigel
and Haoke. Then they had family names, to tell others what family they belonged to. Your full name is Nyssa Lewis Reeves."
“Why did they need so many names?"
"There were many, many people back then."
"I've seen pictures."
"It's not the same, Nyssa." But in such
an empty world, I doubt she'll ever understand. At least she didn’t ask me what my family name was, and why it didn’t
It isn’t just us anymore. We’ve
finally gained the confidence to wander for day trips, and we’ve found others here in the wilderness. I guess we found
Phelps two years ago, but time doesn’t mean much now.
Mr. Phelps is still doddering around. I
had never been closer than 100 paces from the man. I had never been able to ascertain whether he was infected or not, a codger
who had been distant from all before the pandemic or because of it; but old age would claim him before any disease would.
There was Dr. Keller for a while. He was
a hypochondriac; for a full-fledged doctor who’d tended to the dying, it was not hard to become one. Not all vaccinations
had worked during the plagues spread by bugs feasting on the dead. He had trouble walking, which wasn’t a symptom of
the airborne AIDS strain. We haven’t seen him in at least a month. Maybe he died. I don’t know. His food supply,
inherited from a survivalist brother, will run out in a few years if we decide to claim it. I’ve told Nyssa it is hers
after I am dead, when she can’t bring the plague back to me if the disease still lingers there. By then, she will be
She has never touched any other human being
except me. She had never even had a pet because I no longer trusted animals for fear of contracting a disease from them or
the fleas and flies that came with them.
"I had a bad dream." I didn't say anything.
"I ran toward you and you got farther and farther away. I ran faster. It didn’t help. You were leaving me!” She
started to realize the meaning of the dream. “Don't leave me! I don’t want to be alone."
"I have to stay away from other people so
I don't get sick, but you're immune. You won't get sick. But if you get close to someone who is and then get close to me,
I will get sick." I held her tight against me. "I love you. Always remember that."
She peeked out from against my chest. "I
love you, too."
None of the outdoor plantings have produced
seed yet this year. I have to take Nyssa’s word for it because I’m too light headed to walk outside to see for
Nyssa’s studies are progressing without
my assistance. I had taught her to read, but now she's reading everything she can get her hands on by herself. Self education.
A good skill.
I caught her reading "The Boy Scout Handbook"
that had been Jacob’s. "It has a lot in it about camping and survival." I decided to show her the last of Jacob’s
"I have something for you."
"What is it?"
"You'll see." She stared at what lay in
the bottom of the box. "What's this?"
"We can't go camping. You can't travel."
"You can." She lit up. "You're about 12
now, so you should be able to take care of yourself for a few days."
She hugged me so hard the air whooshed out
of my lungs. "Thank you!" She gathered as much of the equipment as she could carry. "I'll start planning a trip right now!
-" She saw my expression. "I won't go far, Aunt Tasha, and I'll be careful."
"I know you will." Tentative steps to independence
and living alone and away from home. I had another hope. With her gone, it would be easier to hide the aches and pains. The
fancy retrovirals from Keller’s house had added years, but not many more.
Nyssa should be home tomorrow from her first
week long outing. The low-grade antibiotics from Keller’s place seem to be helping. They seem to be boosting my immune
system to a more normal level, but it might just be a placebo effect.
Nyssa has been copying "all potentially
useful information" into her private books. Herbal remedies, quotes Dr. Spock, wilderness survival, first aid and medical
advice, instructions from the art and crafts manuals, sections from my gardening handbook. She says she's “memorized
it all but would rather have it in a readily accessible form just in case”. With the notes, she has the answers without
having to cart about a whole library. And without having to ask me.
Nyssa is still gone on her sojourn. It's
been nearly two weeks since she left, tramping off proudly into the snow flurries. It’s the longest she’s ever
Fevers come despite the drugs. Nyssa came
back yesterday. After she makes up for lost sleep, she promised to take care of the plantings for me. Some of the new hybrids
should be able to grow without human care now. That girl is taller than I am now.
Nyssa says she met someone her own age.
She's refused to come in out of terror of making me sick. She doesn't understand that I've been sick for a long time; if she
picked up an infection and brought it back, it would only shorten my time by a little while. I said I would like to meet her
new friend. I didn't say it would make no difference whether or not she was exposed, to me or to him. If he’s lived
this long, he’s immune like she is.
Duncan stared at me in shock and horror
when I shook his hand. Nyssa dropped her plate when she saw, shattering it. I think she realized it then. I'd been wearing
two or three layers of clothing, trying to keep warm. I'd taken the gloves off to properly shake his hand. So they saw it
– skeletal, I suppose. That or they’d both never seen the gesture before.
She's mature by any standard, but she's
never been sick, and can't understand the symptoms, the loss of appetite, and the loss of weight. Duncan is a blonde eighteen
year old and as immune as Nyssa is. He was raised by his grandfather and has been on is own for maybe a year, since the man
had died. Duncan has seen the affects of the disease, and he’s not upset by it. I offered to let him stay in Jacob’s
old study. He’s staying.
Duncan and Nyssa have confined me to bed.
I had no intention of arguing. They're enjoying each other's company. Duncan has decided to stay the winter. At least Nyssa
won’t be alone when I go.
Nyssa sat in silence for a long time, her
hand resting lightly on the diary. She wondered why her mother had put in so few entries. "Is that the last entry?" Duncan
“Are you going to take it with us?"
"Then we're done packing. I've finished
bundling your books, and the packs are outside."
"Give me a minute."
“Sure." He kissed her lightly. She
trembled, though they’d done it before, though not until Tasha’s death. Nyssa stood up slowly, her eyes flicking
from item to item in the room. Tasha was dead, but she seemed to still be in this place. Duncan had told her about ghosts.
Nyssa walked outside to the grave and stood
among the dead woman's precious seedlings, the descendants of those she’d tended for years. Every plant was in bloom.
Nyssa knelt down and placed the diary beside the marker. In death, she’d nourish the life she’d sought to preserve.
"I'm ready now."
“Where do you want to go?"
"I'm sure there are others like us somewhere."
“You’ve show me your ghosts.
Let me introduce you to mine before we go hunting for the living.”
“How long will that take?”
“A few months. And maybe stay a while.”
“What if something happens? We have
to find others -”
“Didn’t she teach you how to
travel with a baby? Whether we find one or make one, we won’t be the last two people.”