BLACK FRINGE – Outbreak Story

This story was included in Salgın Bilimkurgu Öyküleri (Outbreak Sci-fi Stories) selection of and was first shared there.

Thanks to Enes Talha Coşgun for the translation.

The gray-haired man was squeezing his hand so tightly that the fully filled glass would almost shatter. He stayed in that position until his knuckles hurt. Then he sighed, loosened his hand, and set the glass down on the table. The surface of the tea in it was like a small hand mirror, reflecting the flowers in the pot, the ivy bent towards the ground as it grew longer after being wrapped around the pole, and the usual patterns of the curtain.

He was sitting on the balcony, but could not dare to look out, even afraid to change the angle of his head and thus meet the faint reflection in the tea. He swallowed. Adam’s apple moved unequivocally. Seventy two years old Ayhan stood up when he realized that the pain in his throat would not allow him to sip a drop of tea. “This will be my reason.” muttered he, while holding his heart where restlessness causes palpitations. He had not experienced heart disease until this age. However, how sadness and stress had weared out his tiny flesh in a few months!

He came out of the kitchen. The colorful frames on his right side stopped his feet walking in the dim corridor leading to the living room. Frames, each of which preserves the immortality of a happy moment… Here, his deceased wife was knitting. Right next to it, his son and daughter-in-law were cuddling, looking at him with his grandchild, who was just a baby twenty-odd years ago. Below, there was a photograph with a predominance of matte white and blue, taken in the intensive care unit of a hospital, with painful memories.

Ayhan sighed. He still couldn’t forget the fear of death he felt while writhing breathlessly because of the virus came from China, the helplessness that made him worn-down when he was in the intensive care unit for days with a tube stuck in his throat. However, he recovered in four days at that time, and when he got out of the hospital accompanied by applause, he thought that he would lead a happy life for many years, even if he was old.

“Seven years…” he thought. It had been seven years since the coronavirus epidemic had passed, and today, as the calendars showed 2027, the new disease that burns up the planet was the most devastating among the others. The gray-haired man suddenly covered his face with his hand as he stared at the photograph absentmindedly. “Why?” he yelled. “Why me?”

He kept complaining to himself as he was walking towards the bathroom. “This time was not like before, I was careful… I didn’t even go out. Why?” He opened the bathroom door. He faced the mirror and closed his eyes tightly. He unbuttoned his shirt by groping and took deep breaths so that the urge to cry would pass. “Come on!” he whispered, parting his eyelashes, saw a faint light, and closed them again. Minutes later, he dared to open his eyes fully.

Even though he knew what he was about to see, he couldn’t help but be startled and horrified.

The hollow just below his throat resembled the junction of the root and trunk of a tree. A string of black streaks spread from that area up and down his cheeks and lungs.

The name of the disease was “black fringe”. It was first seen among doctors in a hospital at the beginning of the year. The hospital was immediately quarantined, but the disease continued to spread at an unprecedented rate. It lasts for weeks in environments not cleaned with special disinfectants; freezing and heating did not work. The incubation period was short. The persons who caught the virus in the morning were seeing black threads in their throats in the evening, all their skins were being wrapped with these threads in three days, and the patients were dying quickly because of multiple organ failure.

Since the time that the health system collapsed, people have started to stay at home; not for protection, but to hide they infected. Because now, the patients were being taken from their homes accompanied by soldiers and taken to the nearest cemetery. Since these areas were fully surrounded by tarpaulins, no one knew exactly what was going on inside.

Some people was saying, “They’re burying them alive.” And someones, “They are burning the bodies under the ground so that the smoke would not come out.” The rumors had got out of control. Media organs were not working, the newspaper Whisper was still existing as the only viable mass media. In fact, the martial law declared a few weeks ago did not have a priority to give transparent information to the public. Only the patrol vehicles were touring through the streets, the warnings were being given to not to create an atmosphere of panic, and it was being emphasized that all the infected patients must be handed over to the soldiers on duty.

With each announcement, Ayhan was drawn in a little more and held his breath as if his presence would be understood. Even though he knew that he was living the last days of his life, he wanted to end it in his warm house, not in the cold soil.

“No.” he muttered. “Never.”

As he turned off the bathroom light, the old bariams were passing through his mind just like the gentle light at sunrise through the window.

In the early hours of those mornings the silence used to broken by the clatter of the stairs. The owner, on the other hand, used to know who the footsteps belonged to and eagerly waited for the bell to ring. Gündüz was his only grandchild to run up the steps. He used to go up to the third floor and rang the bell, and as soon as the door opened he would jumped on him and saying, “Grandpa!” After a while, his mother and father used to come, ​congratulate his bairam, and go inside.

The sound on the stairs was so ingrained in his mind that for a moment Ayhan thought that he heard that voice again, that Gündüz was climbing the stairs, and smiled.

When he realized that the voice was real, his smile faded like the sunshine of cloudy weather.

When the doorbell rang, the old man clung to the wall, his knees were shaking. Whoever came to the door waited for him to get tired and walk away. However, with each passing second, the knock on the door was louder.

“Grandpa!” said a grown man’s voice. “You’re at home, I know. Open the door.”

“Gündüz!” whispered Ayhan. His grandson was a soldier now, and he was waiting at the door, but today wasn’t a bairam day.

“Grandpa, please! We know you’re sick. Please don’t bother us, we have the authority to break the door. Come on!”

His moving lips prayed incessantly as hot tears fell on the black fringes on his cheeks. However, there was no use fearing the inevitable. Finally, after a long while felt like centuries, he opened the door. He looked imploringly at the waiting team, all dressed in pure white protective gears.

“There is nothing to be afraid of, grandpa.” said the man in the front, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Would I ever do anything to hurt you? You trust me, don’t you?”

While the old man was unable to answer, the other soldiers laid him on the stretcher waiting in front of the door. The stretcher was closed like a small tent and did not allow to see the surroundings. He realized that he was being put in a vehicle. He closed his eyes and waited for the journey to end.

When the sound of the engine gave way to the chirping of birds, he realized that they had reached the cemetery. As soon as the top of the stretcher opened, he turned his head and looked around. The officers in protective suits were digging dozens of graves with shovels in their hands. There were a lot of ambulances waiting in line, patients lying on stretchers.

“Please, let me die in peace.” he begged, but no one was paying attention.

A few minutes later, three officers came to him. One was putting him an oxygen mask while the others lifted their body from the stretcher. When Ayhan struggled and tried to get rid of their hands, they gave him a sedative injection. Two more people came. Five officers laid the old man in one of the deep graves. One of them was Gündüz and said, “Be patient, my grandpa.” “Don’t be afraid, it’s for your own good.”

After they laying him down, they covered him like shrouding. But they did not take the oxygen mask from his face. As the shovels were darkening Ayhan’s world with soils, the old man thought about the last time he had seen the sky. The full moon he had seen last night had left its place to a vast and limpid blue. How the day hid the moon, which seemed so bright at night!

“Daytime buried the Moon.” he thought. “And Gündüz buried Ayhan.” [1]

Even though the pressure of the soil tired his body, he could breathe thanks to the mask connected to the earth via a hose. Due to the dizziness caused by the darkness, the heat, and the fresh air, he fell into a very deep sleep.

It was as if he had slept for days when an intense light hit his eyelids. His body was vigorous, and the pain in his throat was gone. “How sweet is death,” he said as he blinked and adjusted to the light. There was enthusiasm, excitement, an unidentifiable noise around him.

He was hearing that someone was saying, “It worked!” “We did it, we did it!”

He remembered the lessons he had taken from the imam of the mosque in his childhood. He knew that the angels of the grave would question him. He lived as a good person. God forgive him he had minor sins though… Were this light and this joy bode well? Would he go to heaven? Did he really succeed?

“Grandpa, open your eyes!” said a familiar voice beside him. “Gündüz!” said the old man, opening his eyes and standing up. He was sitting on the ground, the sunlight was shining, the greenery among the old tombstones was looking fresh. Officers were walking around, digging graves, ambulances were coming, stretchers were being lowered. This place was just as he left it.

“I am ready.” he said, raising his head. “I memorized all the questions. My Lord is Allah, my religion is Islam, my prophet is Muhammad peace be upon him…”

“Grandpa, you are alive.” said Gündüz, removing the hood of his protective suit. His smiling face and teeth showed. “You’re fine. It was discovered that a gas produced by bacteria in the soil was the only known cure for black fringe disease. That’s why we bring the patients to the cemetery, bury them in the ground in such a way that they can breathe, and the next day…” He averted his gaze for a moment. “If they are still breathing, we take them out. One out of a hundred people can recover, don’t underestimate it, considering the disasters we’ve been through for months, this is a pretty good rate. You healed! You are immune now! You will not get this disease for the rest of your life!”

The old man’s face turned pale rather than bright. “So I’m not dead?” he said. “Isn’t this place the garden of my grave?”

Gündüz lifted Ayhan to his feet. He talked for a long time and calmed down and convinced him that he was still alive.

“Yesterday we buried your anxiety, your stress, your pain.” he said. “Isn’t that the real healer? I’m immune too, by the way, I had a night just like yours last month. I am gonna take this day off, let’s go to your house and have tea together. I missed drinking tea in peace, I bet you missed it too.”

It was a little past noon when the grandfather and grandson were walking together. There were no clouds in the blue sky, only the pale Moon, was making appearance just a little ahead of the Sun.

[1] “Gündüz” means daytime and “Ayhan” means khan of moon.

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