The moon lit the boy’s face as he peered over the fence into the next yard. Jaimie Spencer watched the couple on the lawn chair. The chair’s squeak had drawn him closer, curious. He wasn’t allowed in the neighbor’s yard, but moon shadows amid thick hedge leaves concealed him. A woman he’d never before seen sat in the older man’s lap. The man, Mr. Sotherby, lay still beneath her. Jaimie could not see the man’s face, but there was something grim about him, as if the couple were reluctant joggers in a cold wind.
A cool hand slipped to the back of the boy’s neck. Without looking, Jaimie knew it was his sister, Anna. “Ears,” she whispered, “You’re being creepy again.”
The woman froze and turned her head. The couple whispered to each other, too. Sotherby’s voice was insistent. Hers was afraid.
Anna guided her little brother away from the hedge line. Anna did not speak again until she and Jaimie stood by their own back door. “Mr. Sotherby has brought home another one of his flight attendant friends. You shouldn’t spy on them. It’s wrong.”
Jaimie did not look at Anna directly. He never met her eyes and he rarely spoke. Her brother cocked his head slightly to one side. That questioning gesture was a rare bit of Jaimie’s body language that few outside the family could read easily. Anna told Jamie that when he cocked his head that way, he looked like Fetcher, the cocker spaniel they’d once had. In every picture they owned of that pet, the spaniel’s head was tipped slightly sideways, perplexed by the camera. Jaimie thought the entire breed must cock their heads slightly sideways, hence their name. The boy abhorred instances of imprecision and illogic in language, and so he was frequently disappointed.
“Mr. Sotherby brings home his friends. Remember Mr. Sotherby’s a pilot? He gives rides to lots of people, Ears. He was just giving her a ride. That woman you saw thought she was part of a couple, but they were really just coupling.”
Couple: a noun and a verb. Jaimie had read these words in his dictionary. Overlaps of meanings and terms irritated. He wondered if his sister was trying to bother him. She often called him Ears when she was angry with him, though sometimes she called him that when she hugged him, too. More confusion and imprecision.
“Dad says it’s a terrible thing what’s happened to flight attendants,” Anna said. “He says when they were called stewardesses, they were cuter. Now the older ones have a waxy look.”
Jaimie wondered how the change in the name of their occupation could have changed the way they looked. He’d heard there were magic words. “Flight attendant” must have powerful, and dangerous, magical properties.
Anna pulled her little brother into the house. “Let’s keep this between you and me,” Anna said and then burst out in a giggle. “Mom would worry you’re getting corrupted. I won’t say anything and I know you won’t.”
Jaimie followed Anna up the back stairs into the kitchen. She pulled out a box of cereal and poured a bowl for herself and one for her brother. He never asked to eat but was usually cooperative if a bowl and spoon was placed in front of him.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Sotherby and the woman. Jaimie liked to watch colorful patterns that flowed around people. He had seen the colors around living things all his life. He assumed everyone saw them. The boy had seen something pass between Mr. Sotherby and the flight attendant he had never before seen. It was disturbing because it muddied their colors and made them less vibrant.
Jaimie stood at the sink and gazed out of the kitchen window as he ate. The moon hung so low and full, the tip of a distant church spire reached, its tip stretching to split Clavius, a large crater toward the base of the moon’s face. The boy’s mind wandered over the words spire and aspire. Surely, the terms shared the same arrogant word root. But the spire would always be bound to the earth, many miles short of aspiration’s heights. The gap between hope and doomed reality turned the boy’s mind back to the naked woman in the next yard.
Small black spots had hovered between the pair like greasy flies. The black smear spoiled the usual pleasing weave of colors. There had been many of them, like a cloud of feeding insects, around the woman. They spread over Mr. Sotherby, too, reaching for him. Jaimie didn’t know what the black spots were, but he sensed a yearning and purpose in their movement. They aspired to reach Mr. Sotherby and overtake him. He sensed the black cloud’s aspirations would be fulfilled.
That was Jaimie Spencer’s first glimpse of the Sutr Virus at its deadly work. He was sixteen. He might have mentioned it to someone, but Jaimie Spencer was a selective mute.
“A very selective mute,” his father, Theo Spencer, called him. “Jaimie has something we all lack: A super power. My son can shut up until he has something to say.”
But Jaimie’s ability to communicate well still waited on a distant time horizon then. Billions would have to expire — and one death would have to transpire — before Jaimie found his voice.
~ This Plague of Days will be ready to launch in roughly a month. In the meantime, please check out all the links to books by Robert Chazz Chute at AllThatChazz.com.