Level One

“Some things are better off dead,” Stan said. Moira and Billy just stared without comprehension. “That’s a strange thing to say,” Moira finally responded.

“What’s that dear?”

“What you just said, dear, about being dead.”

“Oh no, that wasn’t me. That couldn’t be me. I never speak about the dead.”

Billy was in a trance, uncomprehending.

The family sat at the dining-room table enjoying TV dinners. Everything was comfortably bland, just the way Stan liked it. The family’s suburban home was decorated in shades of black and white. Stan spoke with feigned interest, “Dr. Sam believes he’s discovered something interesting in the lab.”

“How nice, dear. What could it be?”

“Sam told me it’s a peculiar virus that mimics helpful blood cells in the body. It can sabotage a healthy immune system and cause havoc.”

“Oh my, that sounds dangerous.”

Billy snapped out of his trance, “May I leave the table? I finished my dinner.”

The boy was on a ridge overlooking a smoking crater. He was a half-mile from his home. Something was terribly wrong. The crater glowed softly in the setting sun. Everything became gray as twilight descended like swamp gas. The thing in the crater moved and a clacking sound emanated from the dark hole.

Level One was a prototype in black and white.

“How nice to see you Dr. Evenstox,” Moira welcomed her guest.

“Please, dear, call me Sam.”

“We are always happy to see you,” Stan spoke, “but you made it sound like this was urgent.”

“It is Stan, but someone seems to be missing. Where’s Billy?”

Stan and Moira looked confused and they responded together, “Who’s Billy?”

“Oh my,” Sam aspirated, “this is worse than I expected.” The room seemed to shimmer. Traces of red seeped through cracks in the plaster walls. There was news of a typhoon in the Philippines, but it had no effect on Sam or the others. The missing Billy decided it was time to advance to the next level, but something was in the way, nagging at his brain like an alien virus. The clacking sound was increasing in volume.

They all sat around the table eating TV dinners. This time everything was red. The city glowed beyond the picture window in the living-room like an open wound. Stan, Moira, Billy, and Sam were covered in red, weeping sores. The clacking grew louder.  The program was ending. They were conditioned to believe they were human — they wanted to be human. They enjoyed the black-and-white world of suburban living. They loved family and friends…but it wasn’t true. They were never human. They were the virus that turned the world red.

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