At least we still know his name, Melden’s Pa offered, but his wife was quick to counter: Maybe we won’t, tomorrow. I’ve written it down everywhere. But you’re not looking. Look at Melden.
He stared and stared. The two children played happily. They paid him no mind. Actually… They both paid them no mind.
Wait… Garth – the other kid… both Garth and Melden are…
I’m scared, Melden’s Ma said then, her head falling to fully let out the sobs. She shuddered as the tears barely made it out of shut eyes.
She wiped her eyes clear with the backs of her hands.
I’m standing right here.
Melden’s Pa was grappling with his own confusions. He clung to the doorframe as Melden’s Ma half-sobbed out words: how they’d made jam sandwiches when they’d got home after school. How they were all playing and chatting in the kitchen. How they’d gone to play in Melden’s room and she’d gone to check in on them and they wouldn’t even see her. Just like that. In the space of about 20 minutes.
Melden’s Pa turned away from the doorway to lean against the cool corridor wall.
I took a hold of him and spoke right into his face, his wife continued. He looked right past me. Through me. He wasn’t even struggling to get away so much as just trying to carry on with what he was doing. Like he didn’t understand I was holding him.
Melden’s Pa looked at his wife, then, and something lept from intuit to his lips with absolutely no thought inbetween:
It’s not Melden that doesn’t exist, he’d said.
His wife glared at him. At his choice of words.
Melden’s Pa could care less about the slip. He was insistent:
Think about it, very carefully. Very slowly. Something… viral. Viral, okay? His certainty grew, his words came out feverishly and hurriedly.
Viral. You and me first. These last few years. Then – you said in the space of twenty minutes? Then Meldon. And then his friend, Garth. I don’t know anything biological that acts that fast.
Melden’s Ma wanted to know that the hell he was talking about.
It’s… it’s tacitile? Tactile? What’s the word? What’s the…
Contagious, said Melden’s Ma, suddenly finding the ball and running with it:
You mean contagious. But… dormant? Dormant in us, like hibernating, and then today… Today it just decided to… to what, explore the world? That’s like one of those sub-bandwith phenomena things. What they’re saying about all the ‘vices these days… but it’s fantasy right? There was a documentary.
She suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth: Oh my God… Is that what this is? Are we being-
What about Garth, Melden’s Pa wanted to know.
His wife started at him blankly.
Well? Are we going to just let him go home? What if he carries something and it gets to his whole family?