I remember the first one I slept with.
I remember the first one I killed.
Thanks to the plague both were on the same night… both were in the same place… and both were the same person.
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(c) 2012 Simon Goodson.
“They say you always remember your first. Every moment. Every glance. Every touch. Everything that either of you said. And it’s true. I’ve never forgotten the first woman I slept with. Or the first person I killed. But then, they were both the same night, both in the same place… both were the same person.
Her name was Gill. I never found out her last name. She was twenty two, a couple of years older than me. We just seemed to connect. It was nearly forty years ago but I still remember it so clearly. It wasn’t love at first sight, we just happened to be waiting at a bus stop and got talking. Took the bus together to town, had lunch together. Just talked and talked. I hadn’t believed in soul mates before but it was spooky. We had so much in common. Music, films, books, even work. I was a medical student, she a qualified nurse.
As the afternoon passed into the evening it seemed natural to go back to her place. Once there… well… I remember it well, but let’s just say she became my first. Later, quite a bit later, we were both hungry. We decided to order Pizza despite the exorbitant delivery cost. After all we were celebrating. Every day I wish I could change that. Say no. No pizza. Save her. Save myself from killing her.
But I didn’t. We ordered, and then messed around while we waited. Floating on a cloud, falling in love. When the knock came at the door she was still cautious. She put the chains on the door, she opened it carefully. But not carefully enough. It wasn’t the pizza delivery. It was a Diseased one. Gill hadn’t been quite careful enough, stood too close to the gap between door and frame, and it managed to thrust its arm through the gap and grab her. It pulled her hand to its mouth and tore off a strip of flesh with its teeth. She screamed and pulled her hand back in, just before I slammed into the door. The monster howled, whether in pain, hunger or frustration I don’t know. It snatched its arm back and with a second shove I got the door closed. And then turned to Gill, my heart sinking.
She was already dead and she knew it. Little was known about the Plague in those days but one fact was certain – anyone bitten had at most a few minutes before they were ravaged by the horrific transformation. A minute, maybe two, after that and they too would become a raving monster, intent on killing and devouring anyone in reach.
So we both knew what was coming. She said she could feel it burning up her arm, entering her chest. And she begged… sorry. Even now it’s hard to revisit those memories.
She begged me not to let it happen, not to let her become a monster. I loved her. I’d have done anything for her. So I did. I grabbed a kitchen knife, returned to her side. Put the point under her chin. She smiled, such a beautiful smile. And she asked me to make her a promise. To promise to fight the disease. Fight it for her. Beat it for her. Save others from facing what she faced. Make her death have a purpose.
I promised, and she smiled again. Then the convulsions started. There was no time left so I struck. Forced the knife up and into her brain. She died quickly, I’m sure of that. While I’ve died slowly ever since, thinking of that night every single day.
I look out over all of you gathered here today and I see a few who know that feeling, know what it is to have to strike down a loved one. Know how I felt then and now. The disease caused suffering in so many ways.
My memories are blurry after that. I called the police. When they arrived they quickly confirmed the transformation had started. That I hadn’t committed murder, in fact that I’d performed a public service. So I was free to go. And I did. I ran. I never went back, wasn’t even sure where the flat was to go back to. I ran from the memories for days. But my promise kept coming back. I realised I had to do as she asked.
You all know the rest of the story. I trained, I specialised. In a world being torn apart by the Plague funding for bright medical students was easy to come by. And the research paid off. Five years later we had a partial vaccine, the first. It slowed the spread of the disease greatly, now people could survive being infected. So long as the infected body part could be amputated within an hour or so.
Even then so many died. We kept improving the vaccine but it wasn’t until twelve years ago that we reached our goal. A completely effective vaccine was devised. Then we had to get that vaccine to every surviving man, woman and child. It took time but we did it.
That is why we stand here today. To celebrate five years without a single new infection. A great achievement. My two main regrets are that it took so long to reach this stage, and that we never found a way to cure those who were infected. Then again… with the memories they would have carried would that really have been humane? Maybe having to kill them all was for the best.
As I stand in front of you looking out I can see puzzled faces. This is supposed to be a celebration, so why did I share such a personal story with you? Such a gloomy story? I’ll tell you why. BECAUSE YOU MUST NOT REST. This Plague came from nowhere. We still don’t know its source. And while we’ve beaten it we must be on our guard. Against mutations. Against new diseases. And against other threats.
Humanity is fragile. Now it’s up to the next generation, some of the brightest of which are here in front of me, to safeguard it. My generation are old now. Tired. I’m tired. I am so very, very tired. Now it is your turn, all of you.
My story may be sad, but it has a happy ending. When I next see Gill, I can look her in the face and tell her I did it. I kept my promise. I did it for her.
* * *
CORONERS EXHIBIT C:
Transcript of Dr Shane Stuart’s last public speech.
* * *
“Gill, I’m coming to be with you my love”
* * *
CORONERS EXHIBIT D:
Note found beside Dr Shane Stuart’s body.
* * *
In light of Dr Stuarts speech, only hours before he died, the post mortem which confirmed no external forces were applied, and the note found by his body I am recording a verdict of suicide.