(After ‘Monstro’ by Junot Díaz)
My apartment was my sanctuary. My first place on my own, no roommate to seek solace from. No significant other to make me feel suffocated. Tucked away in a corner near an overflow pond a few feet away, my first-floor apartment was my happy place. Until it was overcome by a biological hazard. I was teaching two classes for the first time while also taking a couple of courses I needed and working on my thesis. The latter part of my 31st year had been challenging, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Or so, I thought. 
                  For almost two months, my social life consisted of work, class, revising, repeat. While wasting time on social media one day, I read about a particularly bad case of a “Swine Flu-ish” outbreak in Rio Bravo, a border city in México – my birth city. Juan, one of my best friends, had sent me the link to the CNN article his sister had written about it. He was always on top of stuff like that and his sister had a knack for writing educational, hard hitting, gritty articles. I regret not having paid closer attention. 
                  Around that time, my migraines had become more intense. Tension in my neck and shoulders, and insomnia didn’t help. Simone – my main and scariest hallucination – began to stop by more and more often and with her presence, she made Damage even louder. It took all my energy to concentrate on my work and keep them both quiet. I didn’t have the time to spare on something that was going on across the border. Out of sight out of mind. 
                  Before all this happened. Before the Blast, before Molotov, before Sebastian, I was alone all the time. The kind of alone that you feel deep in your bones even when you’re surrounded by people. Well, I was physically alone. Damage lives in my mind. She’s the loudest voice in my head. She tells me all about how I’m a screw up. How no one is ever going to want me for long. She echoes my insecurities, magnifies them. Because of her, I couldn’t feel. I loved my friends, but I couldn’t feel anyone else. I was simply going through the motions. 
                  Had I been following the developments online; I would have seen the staggering numbers of infected. The gravity of this nightmare set in when I came across some newspapers shortly after the world was lit up white. Almost the entire Mexican population 9 miles south of me was infected with The New Scary Flu Strain that seemingly had no cure. It had mutated so much so quickly that it was now dubbed, Fiebre de rabia. My Mother country needed all the help she could get. 
                  The Orange Monster’s Administration would not allow any American intervention because, and I quote, “It’s terrible what’s happening over there, but it is Mexico’s problem. Not ours. My thoughts and prayers are with the Mexican people right now.” With that one Tweet, the Orange Monster sealed the fate of not only the people of México, but of those of us that live in the border towns on the American side. I guess he and his administration felt that the newly erected border wall – what with its state of the art, no-grip panels and its infrared cameras that could track all sorts of illegal creatures, the blinding lights sure to sear your, and silent alarms that would let the good ol’ folks in Green know your exact location before you could say 
                   “auxilio” - could keep out or kill the disease as well as it did the undocumented. 
                  Now, sitting in the darkness of my once comforting home, I drink and long for my friends and family. Rescue isn’t coming for me. There’s nothing here except for the Changed y Los Rabiosos and the rotting fixtures of what once was. Memories are being eaten by the oblivion in the air. Soon, all that will remain are the animated shells of the neighbors I used to know. The White Flash Bomb scrambled the circuits of most of the non-infected it was as if all of a sudden, the person that was no longer remembered how to be. 
                  I was coming back from picking up my mail when the bomb was dropped. It lit up the world in a flash of light so bright I fell to my knees and wretched up my lunch. My brain felt super charged. Tingling; my veins surged with an energy I’d never felt. Looking around my apartment complex, I saw a few of my neighbors who had been outside. Tossing their trash, watering their plants, walking their dogs, unloading groceries or laundry – just going about their everyday lives. They had fainted when the wave of light reached us. As if the invisible tethers that held them up were suddenly snipped. I watched them try and fail, over and over, to stand. Their voices now guttural cries of confusion. Almost as if the Blast had forced a hard re-boot of their minds, only when they came back online, nothing was connecting. 
                  Grabbing my mail, I sensed that the mundane, every day occurrences of my not so exciting life were things of the past. My senses were dialed up to eleven while everyone around me seemed to be reverting back to infancy. I ran to Robert, my 66-year-old neighbor, who had been outside with his dogs. His head was bleeding from his fall. 
                  “Robert! Are you alright? Let me help you inside.” 
                  “Yeah, I’m alright. What the hell was that? You saw that right?” He chuckled nervously, looking at the noon day purple-pink sky as I helped him into his messy apartment. His confused dogs following after us. 
                  “Yeah, I saw it. Not sure what it was, but I’ll look into it. You sit down. Let me get something to stop the bleeding.” 
                  Running around Robert’s apartment, it struck me just how lonely he actually was. I did my best to stop by and visit with him a couple of times a week, but I never came inside. We just sat on his patio drinking seltzer and watching his Jack Russell Terrier and his Chihuahua play in the grass. I never stayed longer than an hour. I had deadlines to meet and my own demons to fight. Standing in Robert’s small kitchen, I was overwhelmed with guilt. 
                  Dirty dishes piled high in both sinks, his garbage was overflowing, and his pain medications were strewn about in a way that suggested he wasn’t taking them as recommended. 
                  “Excuse the mess. I wasn’t expecting company...” I heard him say from his living room. Grabbing the first two clean looking rags I spotted on the counter I ran back to him. 
                  “What mess?” I winked at him and he gave me a knowing smile. Depression has many faces. This was Robert’s. 
                   “Here, let’s apply pressure on that cut…” 
                  When I left his place about half an hour later, he seemed okay. Tired, scared, and confused, but okay. It wasn’t until later that I would regret leaving him alone for so long. 
                  The Changed – as they came to be called – are a sad sight, but otherwise harmless. So long as you don’t get between them and whatever it is they’re doing. Los Rabiosos, they’re dangerous. The illness caused them to forget their humanity. They toggle between intense despair and a ravenous hatred that seems to burn at their core. Their sole purpose is destruction. They’ve forgotten their families, their passions, perdieron sus almas. One can always hope for a cure, but how do you remind someone of their humanity when they are so far removed from it? 
                  There’s nothing for me here but loss and death. Crossing the barriers erected by the Administration 60 miles north, will be a challenge. That was the government’s way of trying to contain the spread of infection to the Borderlands – La Frontera where the war began. For now, I sip my whiskey and let my mind drift to happier times. 
                  “What are you thinkin’ about?”
“Our first date. Mine and Sebastian’s.”
“Yeah? I wasn’t around for that one. ¿Como te fue?” 
                  I smile and lean back into my futon, whiskey in hand, “It was really nice. I was nervous and I think he was too.” 
                  Molotov is watching me, smiling. He likes it when I’m happy. 
                  “I bet he was. A beautiful dame like you? ¡Porfavor!”
I can see Sebastian in my mind. His ginger hair combed into a mock faux hawk, his black button up shirt. Just tight enough to show off his biceps and chest when he moved in a certain, subtle way. His dark denim jeans hung perfectly at his hips. His wide smile when I opened the door. 
                  “I embarrassed myself that night.” I say to Molotov.
                   El Mapache Molotov made himself visible to me about two weeks before everything went to shit. He’s a product of my over stressed mind and affinity for comic book anti-heroes. When I asked him what he was doing here, he smiled his sideways smile and simply said, “I’m here to keep that Big Bad Bitch, Simone away. I got you, princesa.” And just like that, he’s been following me around ever since. Protecting me from the monsters within my mind and those which now inhabit the world outside my door. 
                  He is a culmination of survivalist manifestos I’ve read, shows I’ve watched, and fantasies I’ve concocted for myself. I know all this, but currently, he’s my only friend. He’s the only reason I’m coping as well as I am. Together, we can get out of here. If we can get across the barricades to go north, we have a chance. His big brown eyes study me with an unmatched intensity. He x-rays my mind. His whiskers are perfectly kept; his coarse gray and black fur is as clean as is his orange and black jumpsuit. His giant gun rests atop my rotting coffee table. A symbolic representation of his care for me. 
                  “Yeah? Why? ¿Qué hiciste?” 
                  “He asked what my favorite band was...” 
                  “Oh no. You didn’t.” 
                  “I did. At first, I tried to play it off and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have any one favorite band. I like a lot of different music...’then I cut myself off and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t lie. The Backstreet Boys. I fucken love the Backstreet Boys.’”
                  Molotov’s laughter fills the space in my mind that is filled with the memory of Sebastian’s laugh. 
                  “¡No mames! You didn’t!” 
                  “Yup. I was mortified. Luckily, he found it endearing.”
                  For a time, loneliness was all I knew. When I lived with my best friend, Danielle, she realized this. She knew that I preferred my solitude, my silent surroundings. I don’t think she knew just how loud it got inside my head, then again, maybe she did. An intuitive woman, she hoped to help me see more to life than constant disappointment. Maybe this was why she thought Sebastian and I would get along. Upon getting to know him, I learned we shared the same bleak world view. 
                  Our first date was a big deal for me because I felt him in the soft, rolling sensation in the middle of my chest. He felt returned, as if he had been lost and was finally back where he belonged. A few weeks later, he held me close enough to feel his heart beating in tandem with mine, “You feel like my missing piece.” He whispered. I felt it too. For the first time in almost 15 years, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. Not because I felt I “complete” but because I felt understood. 
                  It’s been six days since we’ve been thrown into total darkness. Six days since I’ve heard from anyone. I keep hoping that someone I know will come by. Someone who isn’t Changed or Rabioso. At night, I can hear the moans of the people in the apartments next to mine succumbing to the anger in the air. Some who were affected by the Blast are eventually taken over by the Rage. It starts slow. A wearing down of the immune system. The poison floating on the breeze seeps in and begins to tear the body apart, slowly and agonizingly making its way into their already altered brain. I watched Robert go through it. I thought he had been lucky at his age to have survived with only a bump on the head, but slowly. Painfully. He succumbed and I had no idea how to help him. 
                  The blood splattered walls, bits of brown and white fur, and Robert huddled in the corner gnawing what was left of his senior Chihuahua. All this blistered itself into my mind and it was enough to show me just what La fiebre de rabia could do. Molotov thought it best that I barricade him inside his apartment. I was keeping him safe. At least, that’s what I tell myself when his agony filled screeching reaches my ears. 
                  The US Government was trying to eradicate an immigration issue. When the healthy Mexicans – followed by some not so healthy Mexicans – decided to immigrate to the US for safety, they were turned away. La Frontera was placed under quarantine. If they didn’t go peacefully, they were shot. Their bodies strung up by the Border Patrol, put on display on the México side of the wall. An attempt to ward off any other would be immigrants seeking asylum from the ravages of a disease they would never outrun. 
                  Los Rabiosos overpowered the borders. Using their bodies to create a human pyramid of pissed off disease. The powers at be panicked and dropped a White Flash Bomb to do away with the infection. And everyone within a 100 mile - radius. Both on the Mexican side and the American side. My friends, family, and Sebastian were all out of town. I was at home grading and working on my thesis. Lucky me, huh? 
                  The power went out the day of the Blast due to the electromagnetic pulse that accompanied it, and the water went bad shortly after. I know I need to move, and I need to do it soon. I raided Walmart around the time everyone began to lose their minds. That’s when I got my first sight as to how sideways the situation really was. Walmart – on a good day – is a mad house of unattended children, underage teenagers with nowhere else to go for fun, frozen food left abandoned in the electronics section, pasta sauce tossed into the throw pillow bin. Chaos incarnate. 
                  Walking in after the Blast wasn’t any better. There was blood everywhere. Los Rabiosos were raging. They moved like locus swarming the panicked and unsuspecting. The smell of blood, bladder, and bile came together with the stench of fear rooting to the spot. Forcing me to take in the bloodshed. Los Rabiosos tore through the crowds of lost and scared looters just trying to get what they needed to survive this evil they could not define. 
                  Their newfound strength and agility made them not unlike velociraptors – ravenous, precise, and insatiable. They ripped arms out of sockets the way petals are ripped from flowers, blood and shock surging through their prey, most keeled over and were eaten alive. Some of the Changed tried to fight off Los Rabiosos, but they’re so slow moving it was like watching the Fellowship trudge through deep snow while Legolas all but floated on it. 
                  I’m not proud to say that I kept hidden until it died down. Or that I made my way to the sporting goods section and loaded up on knives, guns, and ammo. Or that when I went to grab food and other supplies, I ignored the cries for help from some of the injured survivors. Molotov kept directing me to get what I needed to survive and get gone. I would gain nothing from trying to help those who were dying. I knew he was right. I fled back the two blocks to my apartment. After securing the doors and windows, I rolled myself up in my San Marcos blanket, held my teddy bear to my chest, and sobbed until I was sure dehydration would claim me. 
                   “Molotov, you really think we can make it?”
He sighs and cracks his knuckles, “Does it matter? The truth is we gotta try o moriremos aquí.” 
                       “We’ll head out once the sun breaks; it seems to slow them down.” 
                  “You got it, princessa.”
I’ve been packed to go for a couple of days now. But I’ve also been trapped by my insecurities. I’ve always wondered if I could survive an apocalypse and now that one has made itself at home in my neighborhood, I question my resolve. Molotov asks me questions about my friends, about Sebastian. To distract me. 
                  “What do you like most about him?” Molotov asks.
I smile, “The way he holds me when we slow dance.” 
                  “Pos, if you want to dance with the guy again, we gotta get outta here.” 
                  “Yeah, I know.”
                  Tears splash into my whiskey adding a little salt to the smoke in the glass. Outside I can hear the moans of The Changed and the squelching attacks of Los Rabiosos. My family is about 150 miles north of where I am. Molotov is right, if I want to live, I have to keep moving. I will see my friends and family again. Nothing will be as it was before, even if Molotov and I make it out of here alive. But even though I’m right back in the arms of loneliness, I know I won’t be for long. My friends are my anchors. They are what’s real and they are all I need. Their memory pushes me on. 
Jiovanna L. Pérez is a Mexican Latinx writer who writes speculative fiction and sci-fi/fantasy. Her work is a focus on friendship and family with those closest to her often finding themselves in her stories. She received her MFA in Creative Writing along with a Mexican American Studies Certificate from UTRGV in May of 2018.

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