SEVENTY-ONE, 2.0

When nightfall came, Dan wandered east on Hollywood Blvd. He didn’t have a destination, just knew he had to start walking, despite his constant cough that seemed to tickle his throat. His legs were restless, which was the result of three days laid up on his couch, coughing out his fever, sweating through the cushions. And he knew he looked like death, or a pale, sad version of death, and didn’t much care for the idea of people staring at him.

The fever had hit him quite suddenly, not like anything before, and he’d blamed it on the food at the diner. It was a terrible diner, cheap and with dirty dishes. But he’d only eaten there because, well, he got hungry after work Thursday night, and the diner was the closest place with food that sounded halfway decent.

Three days later, and a whole bout of vomiting and other obnoxious acts expelling sickness from his body, and Dan could finally start eating again. Pistachios came first, then some bacon and finally eggs. He thought he’d lose it at the eggs, but he got lucky.

And so, here he was, at night, walking east, just past Bozo’s Naughty Room, a ridiculous night spot that he’d once looked at with great desire and pleasure. But now it was just haunted, empty, lonely. The few patrons outside, the men with heads hung low, were older, should’ve been wiser. But Dan couldn’t blame them. The women in Jumbo’s were a draw, and a thrill, and worth it — if you were especially drunk.

But he wasn’t drunk, so he kept walking. Past the cafes and grocery stores. Past the Thai restaurant that had the best iced tea in Los Angeles. When he came to the intersection with Vermont, Dan noticed it was very quiet, which was odd for a Sunday night. Of all nights, you’d think Sunday was quietest, but not in Los Angeles. All hours, all noise, all the time. That’s what Los Angeles was known for, was practically the city’s motto.

At Vermont, though, now, Dan took his time before deciding where to go. There was a bar a half-a-block up the road, but the streetlights were all dark in that direction. He turned to face the south, and watched as the lights turned themselves off one-by-one.

What was happening?

Back where he came, not only were the streetlights all off, but the neon signs for the shops and cafes went dark as he watched. There was suddenly only darkness around him. In all directions. He couldn’t feel his feet anymore, and the air felt thick.

Breathing became difficult, suddenly, and he wanted to sit. But these sidewalks were so dirty, covered in muck and generations of dirt and grime and hate and disgust. Why would he sit down, here, of all places? He had to find somewhere to go. He dug around his pockets for his phone, but came up with nothing.He was without his phone, or his wallet, or any sense of direction.

Sweat poured through his shirt, down his back, and he tried to air himself out. He took off his shirt, and unbuckled his pants. As he pulled them down, he felt his arms twist behind his back, and he stumbled backwards. The last thing he remembered was the night sky, and the stars. They were still lit, and he was shouting about them until a fist came down on his face.

Dan awoke to a flashlight in his eyes.

He was in the back of an ambulance, and there were a dozen people staring at him, including a cop. She gave him a look of disinterest, like she’d been looking at him for days and didn’t much care for his face. “Got an explanation?”

“I just went for a walk.”

“And why did you take your clothes off?”

“I, my what?” He looked down at himself, covered in a blanket, but otherwise naked. “I don’t remember, I was hot, I think.”

“I bet you get hot at night. We’ve heard about guys like you.”

“What? No, you don’t understand –”

“I get it, I get it. I’ve seen worse. Now, where do you live, Mr…?”

“Dan, name’s Dan. Look, can you take me to a hospital. I don’t feel well at all.”

“Did you drink any alcohol today?” she asked. “How much did you drink?  She waited, and he blinked in confusion. “Dan, did you perhaps start drinking yesterday?”

The people behind her faded away, and her eyes grew large and her teeth even larger. When she smiled, there was a black glow that peeled through the gap between her teeth.

He shouted, “No, God no!”

The next day, the doctor in the hospital carefully pulled the blanket over Dan’s face at time of death, 8:00 AM. He let out a cough, wiped sweat from his brow, marked on the chart the need for an autopsy to look for chemicals of any nature.

By the time the autopsy was performed, 180 people had become infected. All of them lived on Hollywood Blvd.

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