The Toll

Late last October, when the plague had reached its nineteenth month, and the latest attempt at loosening the quarantines had only flooded the hospitals with another wave of patients; when we had stopped following the daily numbers, the press briefings, the evening footage of gray-green helicopters; when, fearing the alms-takers, we no longer opened the doors except to collect the sealed and sterilized Cal Emergency Management Agency food boxes; when, in sum, what had come to pass was exactly what any student of history, any devout millenarian, any B-movie hack, could have told us was going to pass—I received an email from a long-ago acquaintance and editor asking me to write, for his obscure journal, a short piece of fiction about the pandemic and its bearing on the future of the human soul. There had been a lot written, he said, about the biology, the epidemiology—this was all people were writing about, really—but very little on the soul.

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