THE INFLUENZA TIMES

In a rare unilateral effort, the United Influenzal Force has condemned recent H7N9 incursions into the human population as “blatant and flagrant imperialist actions”, citing the virus’s repeated flouting of UIF sanctions in its spread from avians to the admittedly prime target of humans.

The move is backed by several viral worker unions, the majority of which have seen their wages dwindle in the face of aviary newcomers who will infect for far less than the minimum viral wage. Fluen Virii, a human child infector from Beijing, spoke to the Times about how the wage war has affected him: “I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve got rent and two mouths to feed, and these aviary immigrants have taken everything. I haven’t fed on a human in a week, I can’t even afford my kids’ antibody medicine. Those damn aviaries are taking all our hosts.”

Tensions mounted at a protest outside the H7N9 embassy last Friday, where over 10,000 displaced workers and protesters alike amassed with signs bearing such slogans as “GET OUT OF OUR HUMANS” and “PULL YOURSELVES UP BY YOUR VIRUS STRAPS.”

But not all UIF citizens are as harshly critical of the aviary newcomers. Professor Grippe of the University of Pandemics had this to say: “We’re all viral immigrants. We all had to evolve and adapt to new hosts, and the aviaries are no different. Let’s not be blinded by prejudice on the issue. We’re all one viral family.”

As tempers continue to flare, it remains to be seen whether the professor’s words–seen as prophetic by some and subversive by many–will be heeded and allow for cooler heads to prevail.

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THE UNITED CITIZEN-STATES OF AMERICA

“The chairman of the UCSA moves to give the floor to the state of John Brangus.”

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, but the state of JB moves to be known as the state of Johnny Brangus henceforth.”

“The chairman acknowledges and apologizes. Continue.”

“Mr. Chairman, Ms. Speaker, fellow citizen-states of the United Citizen-States of America, I move to grant a new holiday entitled USA day, to commemorate the time when our nation was still comprised of fifty locational states and each citizen was not yet granted his or her own statehood.”

“The motion has been heard. All those in favor?”

“Nah.”

“Meh.”

“Why bother?”

“The motion has been denied. The chairman moves to give the floor to the state of Molly Peably.”

“Juice box! Juice box mommy!”

“The chairman recognizes that the state of MP has brought a translator. Will the state of Rachel Peably kindly translate for the rest of the assembly?”

“Certainly, Mr. Chairman. The state of Molly Peably moves to open a line of trade with her fellow citizen-states in supplies of juice boxes.”

“And what can the state of MP offer in return for these juice boxes?”

“Horsie!”

“Mr. Chairman, the aforementioned state is prepared to trade in small figurines of horses.”

“Can the state of MP ensure that supplies of equine figurines are sufficient for interstate trade?”

“Mr. Chairman, Molly–the state of MP–has enough figurines to take up the entirety of this state’s garage, much to the annoyance of the state of Richard Peably.”

“Very well. Trade will be opened. Are there any citizen-states interested in this line of trade?”

“Ooh, ooh!”

“Me me me me me!”

“Mommy can I have one?”

“The chairman recognizes that lines of trade have been opened. Would any other citizen-states wish to take the floor?”

“Nope.”

“Not really.”

“Can I go home and play xbox now?”

“Very well. This adjourns today’s meeting of the United Citizen-States of America. Tomorrow’s meeting will focus on state lines and refreshments will kindly be made available by the state of Ethel Smith. Adjourned.”

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TRAIN OF THOUGHT

It occurred to him that he was on a train. In his world, there existed a thing called a train, and he was currently sitting inside one of these trains of his world. They tended to start off in one location and end in another, but he couldn’t really remember either where he started or where he would end, or if this train would even end at all.

Maybe the train he was on would decide that it didn’t want to start or end anywhere today. Maybe it would say to itself: I want to just be where I am, even in motion. Just be right here, then there, as its pistons pushed it on and further. And that would be that. It’s kind of hard to argue with a train, after all.

Outside this train that kept moving on, he could see things. There were lots of anthills of glass and steel, and some shrubbery planted in neat little rows, rows that had been forgotten about long ago. He wanted to see everything outside this train that kept moving on, even if it was beneath him. So he said to the train: I want you to be made of glass now. And it was. The whole damn train was glass, sparkling in the light of that sun up above. The now-glass pistons churned and wormed up and down, and little spidery cracks formed on them. They branched outward and fused together until it was all a cloudy filament you couldn’t quite see through.

And there were hominids down below. There was an open savanna and wildebeests and little hairy hominids were running around and chasing them, but almost in a funny way, like cats with spiders. They’d swing their stone hammers and then back away, and a few of them saw him there in the train.

The train went on.

He made the doors of the train turn into gumball machines. He did it by thinking it. You could too if you wanted to. Go ahead, try. And if it doesn’t work, you just didn’t want it badly enough.

Everyone on this train might not be real. They could all be in my mind, he thought. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe they don’t need to be really there with their flickering fields of atoms and their forgotten past lives. He put his finger to his chest.

It went right through.

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[BEGIN TRANSCRIPT]

I check in. Of course I check in, sometimes twice in the same minute. I know what’s required of me, after all. Don’t look at me like that. As a matter of fact, why aren’t you checking in right now? There’s really nothing stopping you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

See, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Try to accuse me of something, something unpatriotic. Something… disgusting.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Well that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. If you’ll… yes, if you’ll check the feeds you’ll see that I checked in all day yesterday and the day before that too. Look at my toilet cam, I checked in then too, right when I was supposed to.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

I haven’t done anything wrong here. There’s no need to threaten me. Sir, please, this is all a misunderstanding. I reported my son for you. I gave you hundreds of names. Hundreds. I check in every day–post, too. I’d post right now if you’d only loosen my handcuffs. Please? I can’t feel my fingers.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

No. No. I didn’t mean it. I’m sure you check in all the time. You’re just busy is all. Just busy. Please, no! I didn’t mean it!

[LOUD CRASH]

[…]

[WHIMPERING]

I can’t feel my legs. Oh God.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

No no no, I didn’t say God! It was no. Oh no. Please, I’ll check in from now on! I’ll–I’ll post and I’ll share links and I’ll like pictures and I’ll share! I’ll share!

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

That’s not true! He made it up! I would never try to block access! My network is your network, right?! Check my messages! They were all in keeping with the best interests of the network! I’m a patriotic man just like you!

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Please, I need medical attention. My legs.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

I wouldn’t–I’d—no, I would never suggest that. We need nothing but the network. I burned all my books long before it was required. Had a bonfire in the front lawn, made a big show of it. That’s just not true. I’d spit on one right now. Go ahead–bring one in and I’ll spit on it right in front of you. Burn it right afterward, too. We need nothing but the network.

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

No, don’t! I’ll do anything! Kill my family! Please, no! Anything but that!

[HIGH-PITCHED WHINE]

[…]

[END TRANSCRIPT]

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CATACOMBS

Most people would probably consider visiting the catacombs the creepiest part of making the rounds in Rome, but I think it’s pretty damn cool. Granted, I was raised on Night of the Living Dead and Tales from the Crypt, and my idea of a good time involves lots of red-dyed corn syrup, a couple friends and a camcorder, but still.

Funny enough, our tour guide looks the spitting image of Dario Argento, and his Italian comes out a lot more rapidly and incomprehensible than you’d expect for a guide, so after a while I just sort of tune him out and keep my eyes on the scenery. There are skulls everywhere. Centuries-old dust collects in wisps here and there, the kind that’ll make you sneeze uncontrollably if you breathe in even just a little too quickly. In its own way, it controls the very air you breathe.

There’s a chubby-paunched tourist who talks loudly on his cellphone while his other hand awkwardly clutches the sort of camera you’d see purchased by someone who wants the attention of being a photographer without doing any of the work, or else this guy. The Argento guide doesn’t pay him any mind as he zips along with his warp speed Italian, he must be all too used to this shit by now. He doesn’t even bat an eye when chubby-paunch drops his camera, which camera’s flash goes off all horror-movie-like and shines on one figure in particular as the tourist reverts to a Tourettic state.

The tourist picks up his camera and swears some more under his breath as its flashbulb dangles from a little wire. Our group moves up, until that figure I saw is directly ahead and foreboding as all get out.

Argento rounds a corner, speaking even faster as he goes as if the rapidity of his speech is dependent on making turns. The rest of the group marches on with chubby-paunch taking up the rear, but I stay behind. That creepy figure’s too damn awesome to just pass up.

The figure is a robed skeleton with neatly lined and ordered skulls behind him as if to intensify the impression he makes. The figure itself is well over six feet tall, and his billowing robe is a dark, dusky black that seems like it’s been cut out of the darkness itself. And there at the top of the robe, the figure’s skull stares through eye sockets that haven’t had eyes in them in well over two thousand years at least.

I feel at my shoulder, but I don’t have to: I find the strap of my backpack. My nearly empty backpack. Just the right size, one might say, for a pilfered skull, perhaps. I look this way and that, but no one’s watching. The only signs of life are the faint sounds of Argento’s lightning-fast speech and chubby-paunch’s loud cellular convo.

The skull comes off with a satisfying snap and sends up the same nefarious dust I told you about earlier. I cough and wheeze as it enters my lungs, some kind of instant karma or something. But curses be damned: before long I’ve got old giant Roman’s cranium in my backpack and I’m running along down the narrow corridor to catch up with my group.

I pant as I go, and move to round an upcoming corner. As I do, I slam hard into something and topple over on the ground. I look up, and there’s a skeleton with a sword in its bony hand, fully clad in Roman-appropriate armor. Its eye sockets light up with a fire when it sees me, and it’s all I can do to not let out the contents of my bladder and bowels all at once.

I get up slowly and kind of back away from the thing. Its hand reaches toward the wall as I do, and it clutches a weird lever of some sort as I turn and start to run away. And then, before I even know what the hell’s going on, a trapdoor’s opened up and I’m freefalling into pure darkness.

THUD.

I’m still alive. Thank Romero. But the fuzzy feelings fade when I turn on my phone’s flashlight app and realize what it is that’s broken my fall: the belly of a once-snoring but now very awake Cyclops.

The big guy jumps up with a start, which sends my sorry ass down and off of him with a far more painful thud than the one you just read about. Faint torchlight sends glimpses of the beast’s form my way, but I kind of wish it didn’t, as that whole bladder-emptying thing I told you about has already taken effect and I’m worried the bowels will come next.

The behemoth swings for me and just barely misses my head as I drop down onto my stomach. His swing catches a mummified Roman warrior instead, and said warrior’s sword goes airborne and lands dangerously close to my face. I get up to my feet and pick the sword up. I suddenly remember the Odyssey. I knew there was a reason I read that dusty old thing. I dodge the next swing just as narrowly as the first and run around to the beast’s back. Using its back hair as handholds, I scurry up to its head and plunge my blade deep into its solitary eyeball. As he cries out in pain, he grabs me and flings me up into the air, and by some lucky twist of fate I soar right through the same trapdoor I came down.

I’m not taking any chances this time. I run my ass right out of there and don’t stop till I see daylight.

I pause for a moment at the entrance to the catacombs, my breath ragged. I grab the skull out of my backpack, toss it back in like it’s the plague crafted into skull form, and hightail it out of there. A flash blinds me as I run away–good old chubby-paunch.

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