The thing about bad news: it comes when life is going good. Like, really good.
And that’s the thing about good news: It comes when things are going really, really bad.
I didn’t want to be there. The air smelled like the classic hospital smell and my head throbbed from the bright white lights that seemed to be directed towards my tired eyes. That, and the fact that my best friend was currently lying in a room, and I had no idea how he’d got there. All I knew was that Res was half-way dead, and whatever made him that way happened three hours ago, at one in the morning.
My mom, being the optimist she is, tried to make it seem like it wasn’t a big deal when she woke me up thirty minutes ago. She had come into my room dressed in her loud, flashy moon boots and a lace night robe. I wasn’t asleep yet ( I haven’t been able to fall asleep before three am since the bombs started dropping). Instead, I was sitting at my laptop, the screen black, and my hands tinkering with an old watch.
“Grace, hon.” She had sighed, almost seeming dejected. When I looked at her, she had flashed a quick smile that dropped as soon as it appeared.
“What’s up?” I asked. I didn’t worry about being yelled at for being up so late. Insomnia is the most common side effect of the immunity virus the doctors had injected into everyone seven years ago, after all. If you didn’t die from the bombs, you probably would from sleep deprivation.
“You need to get dressed. Hara called me just a few minutes ago. Res is in the hospital.” Hara was his mother. When she said her name, her mouth drooped.
“BUT!” She yelled, then winced, realising how loud she was. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Just a cold or something. Lets just go visit him, ok?”
I had tossed my watch aside, disbelief crossing my face. Then she had left, and I had gotten dressed, slowly at first, and then quickly, realizing that every second may count.
Although it was clear that this thought hadn’t occurred to the others in the waiting room. The doctors who did wander the halls were strolling with nurses, chatting amicably about who-knows-what and the others waiting were watching something on their VR masks or staring at their phones. No one seemed to realize that their loved ones may be facing impending doom. That the more time they wasted waiting here, in this cold lobby room, the more time they spent away from someone who might be gone in a second, minute or hour.
My mom always said I was dramatic. I’m not dramatic, I just state the possibilities in, well, what she calls, lavish ways.
After what seemed like hours, and probably was, a nurse with long sea green nails called our name. She had pale blonde hair, and her scrubs matched her nails. Her name was Aimi.
She led us to what she called a “room”. It wasn’t actually a room, just an alcove filled with wires and a bed that was closed off from the other alcoves and hallway with a flimsy dark blue curtain.
Res was there, in the bed. His hair was matted to his face, wet with sweat even though it was freezing, and I could see his eyes moving rapidly under his closed eyelids, and he looked small and then in that small bed, but none of that scared me.
He looked fine. Perfectly normal. And that's what scared me. If the bomb gases got in his system, if he inhaled anything over than twenty grams of the gas, he would be turned, the immunity virus would be powerless, and he would seem to be perfectly normal. Just as he seemed now.
His dads, Snow and Cole, who was his stepdad, stood when they saw my mother. “ Balancga, Grace,” Snow said in way of greeting. Cole hugged my mother and kissed my cheek. “Hara’s just left for the bathroom,” Snow explained her absence.
There were only three seats in the alcove, and one of them was for Hara. Cole offered his to my mother, who seemed to sway. I ignored Cole trying to sit next to his son and sat on the bed. Res’ chest rose and fell slowly. To me, it seemed too slow.
After a while, Hara pushed back the curtain, and sat next to my mother without a word. No one spoke, and the air filled with tension. Finally, I could take it no more.
“What’s wrong with Res?” I asked. Hara’s eyes shot up. It was Cole who spoke up.
“We found him, me and Snow outside on the old dock this morning. He wasn’t wearing a mask, of any kind, just out in the open. You know that a bomb was dropped over near ours at around six yesterday. So we ran over to him, about to yell, when another bomb dropped.”
“We have no idea what he was doing out there, why he wasn’t in a mask, if he’s turned…” Snow added. My mom gasped. I gritted my teeth.
You see, these bombs aren’t like the ones from the first two world wars, with poisonous gases. No, we figured out a cure to those years ago. These bombs aren’t actually bombs, they’re these little sacs. Tiny, about the size of an egg, and black, that can be planted anywhere and everywhere, by anyone, because anyone can get them. When they explode, they explode from pressure. And the gas that is emitted from it is dangerous in a way nothing else is.
It turns you, you see. Into someone you aren’t. It changes your brain, the way you think, the way you act, talk and walk. Like the way a heart transplant transfers some of the donors characteristics to the person who needs it, only it's a gas, who changes the person into a nightmare. Thats what its called by the way: the Nightmare Child.
We still haven’t figured it out yet. All we know is that there is an immunity virus, which is useless if you inhale more than twenty grams of the gas. Which is, in most cases, always. The only way to know if someones changed is to wait it out. If they try to kill you, or make threats, or burn their eyes out of their skull, or run down the street naked, then you know.
Aimi comes back, with a tall doctor. She has a beautiful accent, and short black hair. Her name is Dr Masane, and she is from Uganda.
Dr Masane explains that Res may be the first few to contract the Freja Condition.
“What the hell is that?” I demand, before anyone else says anything, because I know Snow, being the geek he is, who start sprouting facts about Freja and how she's the Norse goddess of this and that, and has a giant cat. I’ve heard it all before. I’d rather not hear it all again.
“Freja is the goddess of love, war, death and beauty. Patients with this condition show signs of death and beauty side. They have somehow developed an immunity to the Nightmare and to death. They are almost, in a way, immortal. That's the death part. The beauty side, well, we find it beautiful that such a thing exists. It's a bit poetic, actually.” She laughs.
I cant breath for a second. Res might be immune? He hasn’t become a Nightmare Child? I could almost cry, or hug Snow.
Dr Masane goes on to explain that there are only four other cases of the Freja Condition in the world, one is in Sweden, two are in Russia and one in South Africa. That the condition may be able to become an immunity virus in the future, but since Res is seventeen, not a full adult yet, that he will not be tested due to new laws. That it makes people realise that the world is safe like it used to be, at least for them, which is why they go out without their masks. That Res is safe. Forever and ever.
I can’t help it. I cry, and cry and cry, because I was terrified. I almost left Res. We almost lost Res. But now we have him.
Three weeks after Res’ diagnoses, and it’s safe for him to go home, I see him. I take Canter, my moms dog on a walk near his Dads’ house. He’s not there, so I head to Hara’s. Who cares if it’s across town and I’m a little unfit? Not me. I could use the exercise anyway.
He’s in the back, laying in the grass, wearing almost nothing at all except a pair of boxers, letting the sun cover his body. He breathes in the fresh air like he could get drunk on it. I push back two things: jealousy and a blush.
Canter runs up to him, barking and jumping, so there's no use to be all mysterious anymore. He stands up, and I run to him, and jump-hug him. He hugs me, and I hug him like this is my last day on earth since we all know Res won't be having any of those anytime soon.
He pushes me away, takes in my face. “Grace. Grace,” He sobs. I choke back my own sob.
“Right now, I don’t know if I want to shove you off a bridge or kiss you.”
“Can I pick?” He asks, smirking. Oh God, his dimples. I never noticed it until now.
I smirk back. “No.” I remove my mask, ignoring the functioning, rational side of my brain screaming about the risks. This will be worth the risk.
And I kiss him.
Author Notes: thanks to Zer0, who gave me the idea for this story. I based it on her writing prompt: “Right now, I don’t know if I want to shove you off a bridge or kiss you.” “Can I pick?”