#fridayflash: cough



A bird flew into the west exit doors yesterday morning. Scared the crap out of me.

It's not normal to spot living things outside anymore. These doors are at the bottom of a concrete stairwell, so I'm not sure where the bird thought it was going.

Maybe it thought inside would be safer. Can't blame it for that.

I live in what used to be Bay subway station. The line of turnstiles dividing my open-concept living and dining room areas adds a certain retro-industrial je ne sais quoi to the décor, or at least I like to think so. All my chairs are Herman Miller office chairs. There was a shop that specialised in them close to the subway entrance. They're mismatched, but I like them all just as they are.

This used to be one of the poshest parts of the city. The Holt Renfrew department store marks the southern end of my little post-apocalpytic estate, and fifty-six stories in the air is the penthouse of what was one of the most desirable addresses in the city.

All irrelevant now. Addresses don't mean much in a city with a population of 16.

At night, when I don't have to worry about the drugs the doctors shot me up with burning me to a crisp in the sun, I go to the bookstore above the subway station. I found a book about local history. It said that the basement of the Holt Renfrew store, that too-posh-to-be-a-food-court lunch counter and the gallery of "casual wear" that cost more than my old wardrobe, that whole expanse of floor space used to be a mass grave, back in the 1830s. Supposedly there was a cholera epidemic, and back then Bloor and Yonge was the outskirts of town. When the city expanded north in the 1870s, they dug up all the cholera victims and put them somewhere else they thought was out of the way. Probably has a subdivision over it now.

They didn't get all of the bodies. They found the last one officially in 1929. Unofficially, there's been stories of more skeletons being found when the subway was built in the 1950s, and Bay station has been said to be haunted for as long as it's been open.

I never see or hear a damn thing. Maybe the chemicals killed them off too.

The book got me thinking. I should have realised after the first eight years, but all those books, that giant bookstore upstairs, two floors, café inside, even a grand piano so people could be serenaded while they shopped... and there's nothing about what happened in there. Maybe once I get around to the magazines I'll find a few articles. But all those books, and it's a just a museum piece of life before, not after. It's like as if a thousand years from now tourists come from the chemical-free zones of Earth and a guide tells them how this plot of land used to be Potter's Field, the mass graveyard for impoverished cholera victims, and never mentions Holt Renfrew.

So I went to the stationery section and grabbed a few Moleskines and some pens. Reading this back it's all scattered crap, but hey, I have loads of time to edit. I know I do, because now it's two days later and that damned bird is still flopping around outside the doors.

The problem is the doctors didn't know what the hell they were doing. They said the photosensitivity was just a side effect of the suspension medium, and once that was out of my system I'd be able, we'd all be able, to go in the sunlight again. Eight years later and I still can't. So they screwed that one up.

They told us, all of us volunteers who walked into the wrong clinic with sinus infections and walking pneumonia at the wrong time, they said the nanobots would eventually leave my lungs and just inhabit my circulatory system. The bots would use anything trying to eat my insides as an energy source. So all the corrosive chemicals, all the viruses... bot fuel. And because I was already coughing my damn head off, I'd spread bots to everyone else, and we'd all live happy cyborg lives. Hurray.

I haven't been sick for years, but I've still got the damn cough. So do the other subway-dwellers. The bots might be in my blood, but they're in my lungs too.

We tried all living together, Survivor Island Kumbaya, and it didn't work, to put it politely. There was this stupid huge debate about whether or not to try to have babies and repopulate the continent — would the babies be born with nanobots? would the nanobots kill the fetuses before they could become babies? — and the twelve women in the group pulled a Lysistrata before things got ugly. I still sleep with a knife, but no-one's come down this way in a couple of years.

My home station, Bay station, has upper and lower levels. The history book from the store tells me that they only used the lower level for six months after the subway opened in 1954. Then they decided it didn't help the trains run on time, so they barred it off, then they bricked it off. More people saw it used as a set for commercials and films than ever waited for a train in it.

I don't see anything that moves by itself down here. I don't hear anything. But sometimes I think I know one of the 16 is underneath me, using Lower Bay to go visit another survivor without me knowing. Without breaking the rules.

It's two or three days since I started this, and that damn bird is still flopping around outside the doors, at the bottom of the stairwell. All the hanging out here I do, all the coughing, there are probably a lot of bots around. They might have got into the bird. They might be keeping it alive, but the bird can't do anything, can't move, because even bots can't fix a broken neck. This keeps up, I'm going to have to give it a name.

The bots can just keep you alive. Forever, apparently.

I rearrange my mismatched Herman Miller chairs. I read. I raid the posh department store and try on Chanels and Pradas. I'm getting so thin, some of them even fit me.

And I cough. I cough out the machines of life, and it benefits no one.

Not even the ghosts.