From the Anthology 

Pandemic Writing

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," wrote T.S. Eliot. To help make productive use of our self-isolation and social distancing, Lit Cleveland is offering free writing challenges each week via our newsletter. The following piece is a response to the Parallax prompt.

The Crowned Virus

by Josh Davis

There is a virus that wears a crown bejeweled with spiky proteins. 

Beneath the crown, a single strand of RNA whose origin can be traced to the horseshoe bat via the pangolin, that armored anteater, whose scales are cooked and used for traditional healing to treat anxiety, maniacally crying babies, or demonic possession.

The proteins in the crown are keys, capable of unlocking the most vulnerable of human cells, allowing the virus to enter and reproduce by the millions in our respiratory pathways.

Now, as we cower from the crowned virus, as Governors plead with the public to stay home to flatten the curve, as millions of laid-off restaurant workers file unemployment claims, and as nurses cringe from patients coughing during intubation, I muster courage to venture out to the grocery store.

At Giant Eagle I try to wear gloves—cloth ones, since I don’t have rubber—but I find it too difficult to open the thin produce bags, so I put the gloves in my pocket, and I wonder morbidly if someone infected with the crowned virus has touched one of the apples or coughed in the general vicinity of the romaine lettuce, and whether it is safer to buy pre-bagged lettuce, even though it is more likely to be a source of e-coli. 

I have never been a germaphobe until this month, but now I can’t shake the image of the crowned virus which could fill my throat and lungs, and turn me into a hacking, wretched vector of death.

I wonder where all these other shoppers got masks? I thought there was a scarcity of masks. Have they been hoarding them for years, preparing for just this moment? Or are these the infected, given masks at the hospital and instructed to wear them for the protection of others? Would it help to wear a scarf over my mouth?

And how can I enter my passcode into the card reader without touching it? How many people have touched it since it was last disinfected? 

For over a decade now, kids in suburban bedrooms have played games like Pandemic and Plague, in which the player imagines themself as a disease and plays for the goal of killing off the entire human race.

I’m told the best strategy is to infect quickly—so it can be spread before people know they have it--and only then to start killing. This is what the adolescent hive mind has discovered in years of research. 

The longer the period before significant symptoms appear, the more effectively the disease will spread, and once the deadly symptoms appear, it’s too late for mankind. That is unless mankind can find a cure in time. 

This crowned virus, this undead strand of RNA, without mind or language, with no greater intelligence than the evolutionary urge to survive and reproduce, seems to have learned the same lesson.