Sneeze

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

A thousand droplets of unseen dread. The sudden transition from person to pariah. You see me wipe my eyes and tear the mask from my face with that same tissue, crumpling the lot and sending them with sure aim into a nearby bin.
Without bothering to look up to see your looks of condemnation, I pull another mask from my pocket, slip it from the wrapper and put it on. That done, I take the two steps to the bin so I can dispose of the wrapper as well.
I look about. You all look away. I turn and exit the store.
I’m a block away by the time the active component in the mask reacts to my saliva. The resulting compound combines with the one soaked into the tissue. The wrapper adds the final ingredient.
Two blocks away: I hear a scream from behind.
Three blocks away: I turn into an alley and use a tissue from a different pocket to remove mask and face. The pile they make is starting to smoke before I’ve taken three steps.
After reversing my jacket, I emerge from the other end of the alley, a cheerful smiley face mask concealing my features while the reflective weave in it ruins any attempt at facial image capture.
The autocar is waiting in the taxi bay, a private hire booked by someone who only exists for the next twelve hours, and answered by an autocar that isn’t on the company’s books.
As it takes me to the train station, I watch the news about an incident downtown. Something about a suspected gas leak at a convenience store. There are unsubstantiated rumours of it being an attack.
They won’t be confirmed before I exit the train with a different jacket and mask, and disappear into the evening of a nearby town riding another autocar that doesn’t exist, booked by a new temporary digital ghost.
Some pandemics actually walk amongst you, taking advantage of what you sacrifice in the name of a freedom you never actually had.

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