• “Mom?” my seven-year-old self asked. “What’s the demon virus?” She froze in the middle of washing the dishes and her long black hair stopped swinging. I had heard people speak of it before. “The demon virus got so-and-so. Maybe he’ll be able to last a while.” “So-and-so had the demon virus, but I didn’t think it would come for her so fast.” “So-and-so’s had such a change, it makes you wonder if they secretly had the demon virus.”

    “That’s nothing you need to worry about yet,” she answered softly, beginning to scrub at the plates again. “Ask me again when you’re older.”

    “You always say that! Why can’t I know?” I demanded angrily. Mom kept on cleaning, not looking at me.

    “Once you know, you’ll never see things the same again.” She sighed. “I was just delaying the moment that you’d start worrying.” After that she finally told me, explaining everything in detail. It didn’t seem so horrible at first to my young, carefree mind. Later, though…how could you ever look at someone the same after they got such a disease?
    The demon virus: the only virus of it’s kind. It doesn’t kill its victim; no, it’s not kind enough for that. It acts more like a beacon to all the demons that wait in the shadows for their next host, hoping for a sniff of a human with the virus. The virus actually prepares the human for possession, altering his or her DNA so that the demon can more readily control it and change it. Anyone with the virus never knows if they will be the same person when they wake up as when they went to sleep because demons always possess during unconsciousness. The possessed are nearly impossible to detain since the demon inside them gives them the ability to change shape and appearance. Only a few people are available for studying because only a few are willing to turn themselves in before they are possessed. Even then, only a few demons are stupid enough to possess a pre-captured human. The scientists and the biologists work feverishly, but the vaccination still isn’t forthcoming and the treatment is still non-existent. Basically, if you have it, then there’s no hope.

    Nine years after that conversation, I wish again that I had never asked and that it was still just a weird term for grown-ups to use in conversation. Mom was right. The demon virus was now the thing that scared me the most, more than spiders or suffocation or drowning or any of that. Mostly, I’m scared of getting the virus and having that sickening, unquestionable knowledge that a creature is going crawl inside me while I sleep and take away everything I’ve ever known. That would be unbearable.

    “Next!” Julie awkwardly shuffled into the nurse’s office. Behind me a line stretched down the hall and out of sight. Everyone was getting their annual check for lice and the demon virus, just like we had done time and time before. Most kids are relaxed and bored to be standing here, like I am. Some are nervously running their fingers through their hair, hoping that they just have dandruff and not lice. The ones that are in the most agony are those that are checking their eyes in anything reflective, the ones that hope they don’t have the demon virus. The reason the nurse has to check for the virus is because it’s mildly contagious. If the blood of an infected person so much as touches you, you could get it. The “blood brothers” thing where you each cut your arm and share blood? Uh-uh. That went out of style centuries ago.

    “Next!” Julie walked out and gave me a thumbs-up as we passed. I went inside and carefully closed the door behind me before sitting in a chair. The nurse was none-too-gentle with my hair, snatching and scraping with that stupid disposable comb of hers. “So, Seth; have you been touching any girls’ hair lately?”

    “Only the hair from all my girlfriends.” The nurse paused. “I was kidding.”

    “Right. That’s good, because you have no lice.” She pulled out a light and shone it in my eyes, checking to see how much my pupils shrunk. If I had the demon virus, they would have gotten unnaturally tiny, blocking out almost all light. There’s also a dark test for demon virus where they put you in a dark room and flick the lights on really fast to see how big your pupils were. If you had the virus, your pupils would get abnormally huge as well, making your irises almost disappear. There are other symptoms as well, like sudden weakness, collapsing, or difficulty breathing. Before the demon virus was known, these were all attributed to other causes. Now, though, doctors always check for the virus first. “And you don’t have the demon virus either. You’re free to go.” I gratefully hoisted myself out of the chair and left to the sound of the nurse calling, “Next!”

    Gary quietly went in after me and I stopped to talk to Cason in line. The longer I delayed, the less time I would have to spend in class. “You got lice?” he asked suspiciously, crossing his arms and taking a step back as if he didn’t want to touch me.

    “Stupid. You know she would have kept me in there if I did.” I crossed my arms as well, just because it felt more comfortable than letting them hang at my sides.

    “Don’t call me stupid, Stupid!” He pretended to try and punch me, but I grabbed his wrist and twisted it behind his back before he could do anything. I love beating up goths.

    “Look at this,” I said, pointing disapprovingly at his skinny, pale arms. “What you need is a tan and some weight-lifting.”

    “I’m fine as a weakling,” he said defensively as he twisted away. “Pale skin makes my eyes look good, no?” he asked jokingly, pointing to the eyeliner around his eyes.

    “I still don’t get how you can do that stuff just for a look,” I said in amazement.

    “Some girls like goths. They think they’re mysterious.”

    “You’re not mysterious.” I was about to sock in him the stomach when the nurse’s door flew open and Gary ran out, accidentally tripping and knocking both him and me to the ground. “What are you…?” Then I saw the tears and the look of anguish on his face.

    “Don’t touch me!” he screamed, getting up and slamming through the double doors that lead outside. Everyone in line got dead silent as the nurse came out with tears in her eyes as well.

    “Gary Carsetch is infected.”
    By the next day the tears had mostly stopped, but Gary wasn’t at school. His best friend Jean was text messaging him all day, hiding her phone from the teachers. Every once in a while she would give us updates on how he was doing. Throughout the first part of the day, he spiraled into a depression that gradually lessened as time went on, until eventually he was joking and sending funny messages again. He said that he’d known about the virus before the nurse had told him, or he’d suspected as much anyway. He’d gotten scared the first day that he collapsed in his bedroom, fighting for air. As time went on the symptoms kept coming back and he repeatedly collapsed, regaining consciousness in just enough time to tell people that he’d only tripped. A few times the teachers got mad when he wouldn’t leave the classroom, but it was because he was too weak to stand.

    I marveled at his ability to keep everything quiet until today. What agony that must have been, being afraid to fall asleep at night, wondering whether or not you should say goodbye to your family or just keep everything a secret.
    When Gary came back the next day, he was still Gary, not some invading demon. Overcome with curiosity, people crowded around him to ask what it was like to have the famous virus. He took all the attention well and basked in the spotlight while he could. As curious as I was, I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. It’s hard knowing that he might be as good as dead the next morning. Why try to be friendly when a friend is that much harder to lose?

    Then again, I thought reassuringly to myself, some people have lived all or almost all of their lives without being possessed, even though they had the virus. Maybe Gary would get lucky. “Hey,” Cason punched me lightly in the arm with a gloved hand. His gloves had no fingers, but then again he only wore them for show. They did nothing against the cold. “You look down. What’s eating you?” I shrugged and put down my pencil. The paper on my desk was supposed to have a page of math problems on it, but I had only half-finished the first one. People chattered around the room as usual since the teacher allowed it.

    “Gary. It just bothers me… What if other people are hiding that they have it and accidentally pass it on?” Cason looked down at the floor and one particularly long lock of black hair fell over his face. He knew I had a point. “If you thought you had the demon virus, you would tell me right?” Cason looked up.

    “Of course!” he said defensively. “I’d turn myself in and see if the researchers could find a cure. What about you?”

    “Me too. I definitely wouldn’t hide something like that.” I couldn’t understand why Gary hid the fact, much less why I would want to. If it’s inevitable anyway, why not tell people so that they can be prepared? It just didn’t make sense to my racing mind. I eventually got my work done, but I never went to talk to Gary. For that, part of me is glad and part of me is full of regret, because Gary never came back to school after that day.

    Click here for Part 2!