Today I went to the box that I keep tucked under my covers which contains the few remaining mementos I have saved of my family. There are pictures and notes and even my mother's favorite lighter. It was strange that a lighter was what she clung to when she got the most scared and innocent. It wasn't a weapon, more like a teddy bear. It was black and white with a weird concentric circle patter and a label peeled off, still showing the white paper permanently adhered to the side. For whatever reason, seeing my mom with that lighter was always a relief to me, because at that point I knew she was more likely to hide in her room and ignore me and Drake than she was to go out in public screaming her head off. And so, when she died, I had taken the lighter from her bedside table and tucked it in my pocket, where I would fondle it whenever I wanted my mommy. I did that until I was sixteen and decided I would be just fine without my mother, but I still kept it nearby, just in case.

Among the various items that seemed to warm at my touch just thinking about the happiness they represented in my life, was the address book that my mother kept. It was one of her little obsessions, recording things in list format. Everything from recipes, to what supplies she had in her studio, to the names of the voices in her head, to phone numbers, addresses, family status, and age of everyone she knew well enough to ask for information. The book was red, spiral bound, and college rule (according to the cover.) In black ink, and in my mother's best handwriting, were the words, "Index of the World". I remember mom telling me what she meant by that, "Everyone in the world. As in, everyone in our world. These are all the people who really matter, the only people you can really see,  when you get to seeing things clear." And I thought that maybe my mom had considered Gramma Missy important enough to see.

All down the pages, in neat columns with pretty headings on top of each page, were names, phone numbers, street addresses, birth dates, and surviving family members, as was current in June of year 2001. Mom's handwriting was the neat, methodical block print in the tiny little lines she made when she was obsessing. Each entry was allotted three lines, and in the space on the right margin would be a little doodle that said something about the person. There were probably about two hundred entries in total (mostly because mom had decided for whatever reason to mention everyone, even if they were already mentioned previously under a spouse or parent's entry.) Many of those entries were incomplete in one way or another. Apparently she entered everyone she met and who gave her any part of the information she wanted. There was an entry for a David Tenant that only mentioned the birth date and the country he lived in. How did she possibly meet someone who lived in the UK, when mom had never left the country but once in her life? Who knows.

The entries were in chronological order of birth, which made some sense because she was never very good at the alphabet. She read just fine, but for some reason alphabetical order was always the most difficult way for her to think. Mom preferred numbers, and so being that I was her child, numbers were just a language I had to learn. She started the book with Dannilynn, who was the youngest person we knew: the daughter of a friend from high school who was born in the summer of '09. The last few pages were obituaries of people who had lived (or maybe not) and who had died. I recognized a few of the names Mom had introduced without bodies. I found Gramma near the back of the book; she was on the last page, in fact, that listed people who had not yet died, I suppose because my mother didn't have very many friends of her own mother's age, and because she only had one uncle she had ever known.

So I that is how I now have a phone number and street address for the last known residence of my gramma. The residence I had a dream about last night. I think these dreams are trying to tell me something, my subconscious knows something and it's trying to lead me there. I doubt the home phone is still operational, although there are some areas where the telephone companies just up and left the lines working just in case someone needed to call for help. There's little chance that the line would have survived this long without maintenance, but miracles do happen... There's no way she would still be alive, let alone still living in her own home. If she has survived, she'll be at a local shelter or a base. But little steps. I am trying to work up the courage to call her home and see if it's really going to be that easy. Stranger things have happened in this world so far, after all.



I dreamed about my mother again last night. Belle was sleeping at a friend's house, so John was sleeping with me. It was one of those nights where I almost would have preferred to be alone, not because of anything John had done or said, or anything in particular really, I just felt like having some quiet. But the sleeping arrangements had been planned this way for a few weeks, so I just went along with it.

After he fell asleep, I sat on the couch for a little bit, then I went to my computer and started proofing some of my reports that were due next week. I found the usual three or four spelling issues and corrected them, before laying down to force myself to sleep. A few hours later, I was standing in my grandmother's kitchen,  ten years old. My aunt was with me, trying to convince me to eat something. My brother was somewhere else, probably in the room our grandmother kept for us when we stayed over. I was wearing a black dress and black shoes and black socks. Suddenly I remembered that we were at my mother's wake. Grandma Missy burst into the room at that moment, her long whispy white hair reaching out behind her. She was dressed like my Grandma Missy always dressed for special occasions: a fitted top with minimal ruffle hugging her still-attractive-enough body, over black slacks and her only good heels. Her hair was short and grey and spiked, and her eyes were tired. Missy burst into the room and went straight for the kitchen sink where she pulled the faucet on and started hosing down the same dishes she'd cleaned four times that day. I could see her shoulders shake, but didn't want to interrupt.

Mom had six sisters and two brothers. She was the oldest, named Anais, then Tobias(who stopped talking to everyone after mom's funeral. We don't know if he's still alive or not), Adelia (who had two daughters), Samantha (the one who ended up taking care of us when mom died), Neviah (who had a boy about nine years old), uncle Zeb, Aunt Ruby (who was coming out of college), Harriet (who was in her sophomore year in college) and finally Aunt Olive, (who was only three years older than Drake, and had only just finished high school). Aunt Adelia was in the living room, which adjoined to the kitchen. Her daughter, Chasity, who was two years older than my brother, was in the dining room with her sister Deena, which adjoined the kitchen on the other side. I could hear the girls talking.
"I just feel so bad for Drake and Dahlia," Said Chasity.
"I know, it must be rough," Replied Deena, "I don't know what I'd do if Mama died."
"I wonder where they're going to live now," Chasity added.
"Well, at least they won't have to watch out for Aunt Anais anymore."

I almost went to the other room and hit and my cousins for saying that kind of thing about my mother, but I was in a memory in a dream. I couldn't move my legs even though it would have felt good to punch them like I always wished I had. But no, I had to stay in the kitchen and wait for what I knew would happen next.

Grandma Missy turned back around from the sink and asked me to go up to her room with her, so I obeyed. She took me into her room and shut the door behind us. We sat on the bed, and my grandmother waited for a moment before finally saying what we came here to say.
"Dahlia, your mother was my first child. I don't think she and I always got along perfectly, but we did try. A lot of times she didn't think I was doing things quite right, and, hell, neither did I really. But we did try. Here's the thing, Dahlia, out of my kids, she was the one I was most expecting to be a spectacular mother, but out of my kids, she was the one who didn't let anyone see just how sick she was getting. You know that, though, right? That your mom was sick?"
I nodded my head, like I knew I was supposed to, thinking to myself, you're wrong. She wasn't sick. Just special.
"Well, even though she was sick, she still got to decide what she thought would be best for you kids should anything ever happen to her. Even though I would love to take you in and love you and give you everything you need, your mother has chosen your aunt Samantha. Your Aunt Sam is really a good woman, and I know she will do her best to take care of you and your brother. I trust her." This is where Gramma started to break up.
She coughed and sputtered for a moment before regaining composure as she said, "I trust her, but if you ever need anything, anything at all, you just ask, okay?"

I woke up next to John and realized, I had never seen or spoken to my grandmother since that day. I didn't even know if she was alive or not. Even after Aunt Sam died, I just packed up and left. I didn't even stop to wonder if I had any family left, even though there were so many people I should have cared about. I made a note to myself to start trying to research to find any alive the next time I was free.


My how things change

In the last few years since Belle stumbled into me on a bench outside our now home, some big changes have happened. The most notable being the day, six months after Belle came to stay with us, that the US Army (go figure) had come up with a way to let healthy people walk outside, space-gear-free as Belle put it. It was a three step process to get your clearance. The first step was a shot that disabled the DNA strand in PTA which allowed it to be spread by air. Since we already knew that vaccination couldn't definitively eradicate the virus or its ability to mutate past our genetic boundaries, the second step was a pill you could swallow before and after you went out into the world. The before pill would be like a speed rush for your immune system. I never really did figure out exactly how that worked, but you could only use it so often before your body became used to it, so you could only go out for a few hours a week. The after pill slowed your metabolism enough to keep cells from replicating for a not even a microsecond, just an instant when all cells stopped reproducing. This was supposed to freeze the virus in mid-split if you had it. This also really REALLY hurt. Everything. You literally had to die for an instant to kill the traces of virus that may be inside you. The final bit of the puzzle of making it outdoors was a small surgery that everyone was strongly 'encouraged' to have. They made an extra trachea for everyone. In other words, they put a small tube into everyone's lungs that connected to a small, flesh-colored button above the sternum. When you were going outside, there was a small device that you would either tape to your chest or stomach, and it would create oxygen for you to breathe. They called the whole apparatus Filter, but a lot of civilians and scientists called them The Worm.

Eventually, we did figure out that we would be okay without all the shots and pills. It's a lot simpler now, just plug in your Worm and go. And for god's sake, decontaminate when you come in! I will never take the sunlight on my skin for granted as long as I live, though.

A much less notable event to the world, but one that changed my universe, was the beginning of Belle's puberty. She came to me as a young girl, barely standing, scared, and troubled. I can't say I've been a perfect guardian, I mean, she has mouthed off to teachers plenty of times, but I'd say I'm doing okay. But when she hit the wall, she really hit the wall. I remember being twelve, and how much it sucked to try to figure it out all by myself, not to mention wading through all the crap your friends are trying to make you believe. At least I had someone there who I had known my whole life. Belle's just got me. She's also got it a little worse than me, too. She's still got those precious freckles, but her skin is breaking out like mine never did. Plus some things have... started earlier than mine did. But it's not just the bodily changes that make me worry over her. She's not as sweet as she used to be. She used to be respectful and kind and courteous. Now she's just... a teenager. She can be downright belligerent at times, weepy the next moment, and normal right after that. Sometimes I start to think of my mother, and have to stop myself. Belle is not crazy. She's just going through more than any girl her age should need to go through.


Perilous Progress

It's been a few months now since John and I became an "Item" and I guess things have been going ok. We never run out of things to talk about, that's for sure, and I'm still attracted to John, but we have arguments much more frequently than I would like to admit. He's just so charming, so there are always lots of people around him and many times they're women. I don't want to share him with them, but I try to keep my mouth shut for the most part. I know he's just doing his job. But when we do have a little tiff, it's always the first thing to fly from my lips.

So, this week I've been focusing less on my jealousy and more on my work. I have made a little progress in figuring out why the latest tested treatment failed so I'm not feeling like a total waste of space. It appears that the virus has split into yet another strain to deal with the treatment. There are probably a couple million versions of the virus that have passed through this planet in one community or another.

You see, viruses are interesting animals. When you figure out how to kill one, you make copies of the dead one to vaccinate people. As you vaccinate for the first time, you need to do it slowly, to see how it will affect someone's body besides just making them immune to the virus. Well, with a lot of simple viruses, the result is a fairly good resistance to the parasite. However, with some viruses, such as HIV, Influenza, and PTA, the result is that the parasite evolves. For some viruses, like PTA, the result is a weaker, less mobile parasite. It is taking a very, very long time to weaken it, but the results are there. The virus is finding fewer and fewer yet footholds on our brain cells. The scary part is that these medications may end up damaging our brains, because in the foreseeable future, the only option will be a set of booster inoculations to debilitate and eradicate any forms of the virus we may have. Either that or a cocktail. All designed to kill a neural virus. We have yet to discover whether it's possible to contract multiple strains. There are rumors, but we've yet to get someone to survive it long enough to make it to a government doctor.

And so, despite the small steps we make in fighting this bug, every time you kill one strain, a new one pops up to kill you back. Now, that wouldn't be quite so bad, except that there are a couple hundred governments throwing different ideas at each new strain, not to mention any private researchers. Although they are few and far between, they do still exist.

It's an uphill battle, trying to kill this thing, but we do seem to have one advantage: Every new strain is somewhat less potent than the version before it. Every one is deadly, yes, but some strains are less painful getting there, and others may not even reanimate your body. It's taken us ten years to push the firus this far in devolution. Maybe in another ten we can force it to chose just one method of infection?

That's my current goal, anyway. Breed it out like a purebred animal. Breed it out until we can simply deal with it in the same manner we deal with any other virus: treat the symptoms. If it keeps going this way, maybe we can even start treating their infected so their suffering is a little less within my career? I've been talking to the girls in neuro, and they're saying the turned might still be able to register pain to a certain point after turning. Can you imagine? Having no control over your body but still feeling pain and hunger? I don't even want to think about it... that would be worse than just dying and getting it all over with, don't you think?