Short Story
                   The Plague Arrived One Bright Morning
                                                                                                   By Stanley Wilkin


   The Entity moved in next door, arriving mid-morning.  The neighbors smiled a hello as It ushered in
newly brought pine furniture and knick knacks.  It smiled, saying ‘hello’ back.  For some of those standing
watching the Entity arrive that warm spring morning, It’s voice sounded oddly harsh, for others it was a rich
impressive baritone.  In the heat, the Entity shivered. Glancing furtively about, It seemed uncomfortable
with all the activity around it and the street-long inquisitive eyes focused on It’s every move.  A few of the
Entity’s new neighbors noticed how ill It looked, It’s face pale and lined, how slow it moved, while others
noticed instead its striking attractiveness.  They all later agreed that It was tall and well dressed, although
also at the time many saw the Entity as dressed in ordinary black corduroys and ill-fitting woolen jumpers.

   The following week it did not emerge from It’s new home.  In the half-light, It stayed indoors, reading
books and magazines.  It’s house seemed throughout that time perpetually shaded, shielded by silence.

                                                                                   *

   Sarah was a naturally curious woman and so was first to pop around to greet the new neighbor.  
Recently divorced, she did not welcome gossip but nor was she prepared to let it inhibit her behavior.  She
liked men and enjoyed sex.  Why should she give them up because her neighbors watched her every
move?  She was in her prime, and would prove it.  Besides, the new neighbor looked cute.  Over six foot,
although clearly recovering from a debilitating illness, It was cute.  With trepidation, in early evening she
knocked on the door.  As she stood waiting, she noticed the flowers decorating the porch were dead, a
muddy brown or slovenly grey instead of the once vivid yellows, blues and reds she fondly remembered.

   There was no answer at first, and she was about to leave when the door opened wide and It stood there
half-exposing its broad discolored flattened teeth.

   ‘Hello.’ It said.  It’s voice was soft and low.

   ‘Hello.’ Sarah replied.  She put out a hand.  ‘I’m your immediate neighbor but one, on the other side of
the street. Welcome to the neighborhood.’

   ‘Thank you.’ It replied.  Without hesitating It opened the door wide.  ‘Would you like to come in?’

   It’s directness took Sarah by surprise.  Despite her reservations, she nodded and walked in as It
stepped aside.

   As she well knew from umpteen previous visits, the front door opened onto the lounge.  It had
dramatically changed the décor.  The previous tenants, the Hendersons-professionals with a young family-
had preferred bright colors.  The Entity had replaced their primary colored motifs with dreary abstracts.

   ‘Please, take a seat.’ It said.  ‘Would you like a drink?  I don’t have much in the house, just gin, brandy,
whiskey and ice or tonic water.’

   Sitting down and swiftly crossing her legs, she opted for brandy.  While he went for the drink, she had a
chance to further appraise her surroundings.  She noted first the scarcity of furniture, although what was
there seemed to have been well chosen-modern lines and neutral colors.  But there were no personal
touches.  The décor looked like it had been selected by an estate agent.  Everything was bland, down to
the plastic replica wooden flooring that covered the ground floor.  It was just a base as her ex-husband had
referred several times to their shared home, breaking her tiny, well-oiled heart in the process.  The Entity
had no family.  She was sure of that.  The home she sat in was not designed for a family.  Still, glancing
around, she was surprised by the lack of photographs anywhere, the lack of ornaments, knick-knacks and
paintings.  Apart from the undemanding color-scheme, the house seemed pervaded by shadows.

   It returned after a few minutes, drinks in hand, and sat opposite her.

   ‘Thank you.  You’re the first one here to greet me.  I thought none of you would, it was taking so long.’

   She took the glass and immediately downed a relaxing mouthful.  The brandy tasted ripe, rich and
mature.  She nursed it, swilling it around her palate.

   Studying It’s strangely shifting features, she introduced herself:

   ‘My name’s Sarah.  Sarah Wallington.’

   The Entity furrowed It’s brow.  It seemed to understand It was expected to respond in kind.

   ‘I’m Ted.’ The Entity responded hesitantly as if uncertain that that was who It actually was.  It’s eyes
became temporarily blank as if It was internalizing something truly painful.

   “What do you do, Ted?  You are already something of a mystery.”

   Sarah ventured.

   Its features grew even paler as if It had suffered an assault.

   The weather changed and the breeze that had brought release from the heat all day was replaced by a
sudden flurry of strong winds.  It stood up looking out onto the ordered street with its carefully manufactured
homes.  Composing It’s features, It turned towards her smiling.

   ‘I do many things.’

   Her eyes widened in curiosity.

   “Such as?”

   “Oh, search for and collect food stuff.”

   Its voice dropped several octaves, becoming like empty space in a haunted house dripping with dew
and cobwebs.

   The light in the room dimmed.  The single plain clock on the wall became frantic, the hands turning
violently.  Her body seemed fixed to the sofa.  She watched the Entity speak, It’s mouth opening and
closing like a pump, It’s tongue roaming nomadically within Its pitch-black mouth.  She remembered
nothing more until she found herself walking across the quiet street towards her home, storms threatening
again as the troubled air became tangled in tree branches, making the worrying sound of cracking whips.  
Reaching her house door she stopped all movement, suddenly realizing where she was and what she was
doing.  She looked around in confusion, shook her head and unlocked her door.

   In the shimmering morning air, she couldn’t remember what had happened that night.  Worried and
confused, she inspected her vagina accepting with relief that they hadn’t had intercourse.  Her head didn’t
hurt, so, knowing how alcohol affected her, she concluded that she couldn’t have drunk too much. If she’d
had, even then, the following morning, she would have been unable to face the sunlight.

                                                                                   *

   She stayed indoors until late afternoon when in crumpled clothes she pulled the living room curtains
wide open and stared across at the Entity’s house.  She couldn’t turn away.  Eventually, in the thin, turgid
light as evening approached, the Entity opened It’s front door, looked right and left and then straight at her.  
Their eyes remained locked, and briefly as the day drained away her life seemed to gradually seep away
too.

   They met two days later at one of the regular coffee afternoons run by Jeff and Mort, the couple who
lived at the end of the avenue where the trees bunched up to form a wide sunshade.  For the street, this
was a much anticipated event.  On occasion, the entire neighborhood turned up mainly to hear Jeff’s
expanded gossip and taste as many of Mort’s sumptuous sandwiches as they could in a few short hours.

   As Sarah entered, the stark smell of gin still on her breath, she waved to Tess, her closest friend in the
street.  Tess stood in a corner as usual up against the bookcase, drinking slowly, her lined rumpled jowls
hanging from her face like discarded carrier bags.  Her husband, Brian, whom Sarah regularly slept with,
sat on the sofa eating slowly and smiling at everyone he knew.  While Tess waved at Sarah resignedly,
Brian gave her a conspiratorial grin.

   Sarah’s eyes moved towards the back garden, a compendium of rose bushes, dandelions and rare
colorful flowers planted randomly, where most of the guests on that warm day congregated.  Nodding to
her friends, she continued on her way.

   The Entity stood in the garden’s center by a small alder covered in small umbrella-shaped bunches of
tiny leaves that seemed to provide It with a sun shield and a demonic halo at the same time.  It appeared
much taller than before, and even more attractive.  Its pallor was gone, replaced by a reddish, almost
opulent complexion.  As was their habit, Jeff and Mort were very attentive towards the newcomer keeping
him well-supplied with food and drink as well as subtly applied caresses and wide-mouthed smiles.  Once
again, Sarah stared fixedly at the Entity.  She was suffused by the tangy, riveting forces of lust that
suddenly and thrillingly enveloped her.

   The Entity eventually noticed her over the heads of Mort and Jeff.  It smiled.  Giving its apologies, the
Entity circumnavigated his overzealous hosts and approached her.

   “Good to see you again.” It said to her quietly.

   She instantly flushed.  Her hand shook and the color seemed to drain from her drink as if in response to
It’s closeness.

   “I thought I’d lost my new friend.” It continued.

   It touched her arm, filling it with coldness.

   ‘How are you Ted?’ She asked shivering.

   ‘I’m fine.  How are you Sarah?’ It turned around to Jeff and Mort.  ‘Sarah was the first one to visit me
when I moved in.  Then it was you two guys.’

   Jeff and Mort looked put out.

   ‘Oh, what did you want Sarah?  Sugar?’ Mort asked sarcastically.

   Sarah smiled. ‘No, I leave you to ask for that.’

   Mort turned his back on her with a sniff.

   ‘Come over tomorrow again.’ It suggested, immediately returning to its new friends.

   Sarah nodded to its receding back, wondering why she’d agreed.

                                                                                   *

   The Entity was the main topic of conversation during the party.  Several of the women exclaimed at how
well-mannered and handsome It was.  Others immediately concerned themselves with It’s apparent
closeness to Jeff and Mort, debating Its sexuality until Sarah’s visit was mentioned.  Neighbors had
noticed her arrive at the Entity’s bungalow, staying for several hours.  Sarah, everyone knew, was a
woman of light-feather light-morals.  Some of the younger women, several were in their early thirties, noted
how much healthier It looked already, and that clearly the local environment was doing It good.  Sarah
noticed that in the half-light the Entity resembled a woman.  Although, when she looked again she could
see that this metamorphosis was a trick played by edgy shadows from the flickering garden lights and the
half-moon in the sky like a lingering, uninvolved guest.  By ten, the party came to an end.  Everyone left,
returning to their homes except for the Entity, which stayed with Jeff and Mort, much to Sarah’s peculiar
irritation.

                                                                                   *

   Sarah got up early the following day for work as a cashier in town. Feeling oddly nauseous, her head
dizzy, she only spent half the day there then requesting time off she returned home.   Alighting from the
Route 59 single decker at the bottom of the street, as she rarely took her car for such short distances, she
began the upward climb towards her house. Passing Mort and Jeff’s bungalow, she spied Jeff crazily
slumped over his garden chair, a blank look on his face and nearby was Mort flopped against the wall.  
She called out.  Both waved at her lazily.  She was shocked at how tired they looked.

   Indoors, she refreshed and changed.  After a reviving brandy, she went over the road and knocked the
Entity’s door.  It answered the door within a minutes, standing before her resplendently healthy, appearing
ten years younger.  It looked slightly different that afternoon, as if its features had been rearranged.

   ‘Hi’. She said jocularly.  ‘You asked me to come around.’

   ‘Suggested’, It said.  Its voice had changed too.  Become deeper.

   ‘Yes.’

   Sarah replied.  Her voice resembled an echo returning from a very deep cavern.

   Moving aside to let her in, she entered the Entity’s home as if in a trance, her movements automatic.

   The furnishings, in such a short time, had changed.  The inside seemed less masculine.  There was a
number of fripperies.  Doilies were strategically positioned on a new dining table.

   Chintz covered the furniture.  Beautiful water colors covered the living room walls, images of rivers,
streams and exotic skies.  Plastic flowers stood upright in expensive vases.

   ‘You’ve changed it.  That’s sudden.’ She noted.

   ‘A drink?’ It asked, ignoring her observation.

   ‘A coffee this time, please.’

   She hated people to think she drank all the time.

   ‘Ah.’ Its eyes danced with humor. ‘I’ll have to go into the kitchen.’

   She heard the Entity shuffling about in the kitchen.  Looking around, she noticed that It still had no TV,
nor anything to play music on.  She wondered what it did alone at night.  Occupying herself with a
fingernail, a red-painted simulation with white stars attached, she sat back in the armchair refusing to let
her mind wander again, telling herself to stay awake.  She began silently reciting a Lewis Carroll poem,
focusing on its sly humor. Ted did not return for over ten minutes.

   With abject apologies, It returned with a brightly designed mug of coffee.  She cupped it, enjoying the
heat.  It sat down carefully beside her.

   ‘How good to see you again.  A friend of yours called earlier.’

   ‘Oh.’

   ‘Tess.  She came with her husband.  Nice fellow.  He stayed around for a while after she left and we
talked football for hours.’ It laughed.

   She wondered what Tess, not the most sociable of people, had wanted.  Not letting the matter worry her,
she decided it was Brian’s curiosity that had been piqued.

   ‘Oh.’ The coffee was delicious.  The biscuits were rich and buttery.  It ate nothing.

   ‘Aren’t you hungry?’ She asked the Entity.

   ‘I rarely get hungry.’ It replied.

   Its eyes were, she noted, tinged with red.  Growing dizzy, she realized how odd they were. Human eyes
were very rarely red. It placed a hand on her knee, and through her jeans she felt its talons.

                                                                                           *

   It was ten.  She saw the dark pouring through her half curtained window.  The TV was flickering.  Her wall
clock was clicking out the seconds.  She barely had the strength to lift her eye lids.  She struggled out of
her armchair and looked around.  How did she get here?  Again, she’d lost all memory of the previous six
hours.  Once again she checked her clothes, but instinctively knew that nothing had happened.  Once
more, she had no energy. What had happened?  What had he done, she wondered?

   Unable to summon up energy, she again fell asleep.

                                                                                   *

   She tussled with the urge to visit It again for several days, nevertheless watching as a troupe of eager
women entered the bungalow, often followed by irate husbands.  She took up reading to take her mind off
the newcomer, feeling hopeless and ridiculous like some infatuated girl with an uncontrollable crush on an
unsuitable boy.

   ‘It’s not that interesting.’ She told herself angrily, instantly wondering why she’d called Ted ‘It’.

   Eventually, she donned her tracksuit and set out on a run, putting distance between herself and the
neighborhood.  She passed down the road and onto the nearby common.  Within half an hour, she’d
reached the other side of the common and began to run along the perimeter.  As she ran, all she could
think of was her new neighbor.  Her unwelcome thoughts made her run even harder.  Coming back
exhausted and sweaty, she almost fell over Tess, who for some reason that Sarah then did not understand
was lying before her on the road, half hidden by a neighbor’s hedge.

   Once she had recovered herself, Sarah bent down and began poking her.

   ‘Tess, Tess, what’s wrong?’

   Tess blinked up at her from her prone position.  Attempting to smile, she pushed herself onto an elbow.

   ‘Been drinking?’ Sarah asked with as much concern as cruelty.

   Tess had begun to drink heavily when she learnt of Brian and Sarah’s affair, which predated the latter’s
bitter devoice.

   ‘No. No.’ She gave a wan smile.  ‘Don’t know.  I must be ill.’ She levered herself up.  ‘Don’t feel well.  I
came out for a walk I think and, well, I don’t remember anything else.’

   Her eyes temporarily became glazed again, while Sarah helped her to her feet.

   ‘Go get some rest.  You’ll be OK after some sleep.’

   Tess nodded weakly.

   ‘Where’s Brian?’ Sarah asked.  She could not see him about.  He usually was when not at work, tending
the garden or gossiping with neighbors.

   ‘I think he’s at home.’ Tess replied.

   ‘Come.’ Sarah put an arm around her and helped her the few hundred yards back to her house.  Once
there, she plopped her onto the sofa and went looking for Brian.  There seemed no sign of him in the
house, until, venturing into the bedroom, she saw an inert lump beneath the duvet.  She went over.  Brian
appeared to be asleep, but his stillness was unsettling.  There was no movement.  Even a sleeping person
moves.  She bent over and tested his breathing.  He was dead.

                                                                                   *

   After the ambulance had taken the body away, Sarah stayed with Tess until her adult children, living on
the other side of town, arrived.  The death was judged to be natural.  He had succumbed to one of those
mysterious viruses/organ failures that affect middle-aged men.  Sarah noticed how old looking he had
become in the space of a month.  His skin had become flaky, he had lost clumps of hair from the back of
his scalp and his teeth had blackened.  He was no longer the handsome man she’d happily slept with
whenever the opportunity presented itself.

   The entire street attended Brian’s funeral, as despite his sporadic promiscuity, he was very popular
amongst the residents.  Never seen without a smile, his eyes always had a twinkle and his lips produced
jolly quips in the relaxed manner of a failed comedian.  At the front of the funeral procession, wearing an
attractively mournful expression, the Entity strolled sporting a beautifully tailored, selectively expensive,
well-chosen black suit surrounded by attentive women and men.  They lingered on his every gesture and
expression.

   It, in It’s element, stayed throughout the internment, graced the wake for several hours leaving at the very
last minute with a young female mourner.

   Prolonged lethargy struck the funeral attendees, consuming the entire street.  The energy of its many
residents, its tiny animals and numerous pets, seemed to have been sucked up by invisible, noiseless
extractors.  Sarah’s friends and neighbors struggled to leave their beds, staying there, tired and drained.  
The street became desolate.  Dust accumulated on decaying porches and eaves, waiting for unlikely
hogweed to drift by in sudden gusts of wind.  Strangely, Sarah was less affected than the others.  She
retained sufficient energy to go from house to house checking on her old, and, it seemed, dying neighbors.

   Doctors came in to every household on a regular basis, taking blood, giving drugs, diagnosing to no or
little effect.  Like Sarah, the Entity was fine. Finer than It had ever been before.  The nurses attending the
Entity, checking Its pulse and pressing thermometers into Its every orifice, also acquired the virus-if that is
what it was.  The lethargy spread, quickly affecting others.  In the adjoining streets, people also took to
their beds.  An emergency situation was declared, and crisis epidemic strategies initiated by the local
health authority.  The entire, usually slumberous, town buzzed with excitement at the macabre events until
succumbing themselves.

   The Entity grew healthier and healthier.  Amongst all the casualties, It moved like a resplendent demi-
god, laughing and chuckling between moments of effusive empathy for the dwindling lives of Its stricken
neighbors.  Sarah noticed It was changing rapidly.  It appeared taller, more muscular, It’s eyes burning with
coal-bright energy.

                                                                                   *

   Tess was the next to die.  She fell into a sleep, and lacked the energy to come out of it.  She had grown
increasingly thin, her body beset with boils.  Her hair had fallen out.  After a few days she quietly expired,
her children already fled, with only Sarah and the Entity by her side.  It had placed a reassuring hand upon
her brow and at that point her face grew even paler, and she hacked out a final tortured breathe.  The
Entity appeared to grow yet another inch.

   The Entity was the chief mourner at Mort and Jeff’s death the following month.  The nearer It approached
the two friends, the more difficult their breathing became.  The Entity seemed to be mining the air from
their lungs.

   Sarah also began to visibly weaken.  She hardly now moved from her house.  Thankfully, It visited her
every day bringing food and brandy.  It asked for no payment.  Its solicitude was remarkable.  At times,
when she was coherent, she wondered if the Entity had brought the virus into the street.  At other times she
called him by her ex-husband’s name.  Eventually an ambulance arrived, removing her to the hospital,
where, for a while, she recovered, weakening again whenever It visited.  Her friends now gone, without
children, the Entity was the only one who seemed to care for her.

   A month later, regardless of the intense medical activity around her, blood transfusions, injections,
numerous investigative procedures, like the others she too died.  The only one to attend her funeral, tall,
strong, robust, the Entity stifled several simulated tears and threw the obligatory handful of dust into her
grave.

   A week later in the early hours of the morning, It’s furniture was removed from the now ghostly street,
with its rows of empty houses, and the Entity left.  Driving away It stopped at the end of the street, turned
and looked for one final time on Its recent home, remembering Its old dead friends with a sigh, pursed its
thinning lips, trawled a hand through Its thinning hair, and drove on.

                                                                                   *

   Three months afterwards, a small town a hundred miles up the M5, cuddled between green hills like a
baby nestling between plump green breasts, was suddenly infected by yet another unknown virus.  In their
dozens, the inhabitants fell dead in the streets. The Entity watched them die, smiling, refreshed by It’s
renewed potency.
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About Stanley Wilkin

Stanley Wilkin. A college
lecturer living in Portugal.
A writer of academic
books, poetry and short
stories.