― Alan Moore
Taking the Mark
We had just passed the autumnal equinox so fall was here. I was concerned about the approaching winter and whether we'd be able to harvest enough produce from our vegetable garden to tide us over until spring.
Each day the girls and I would go out into the garden and weed and water and turn over the soil. Angelica knew quite a bit about preserving fruit and vegetables so that duty mostly fell to her leaving Brooke and me to do the grunt work for hours out under the merciless sun.
Thankfully, the Cliffords faithfully showed up each day and Frank taught us how maximize our yield and manage to keep pests at bay. We shared our harvest with them and so we mutually benefitted, but they had also become good friends and a source of knowledge about what was going on locally and in the world at large.
During our midday break Frank informed me about the latest news. "The government figured out the plague was a a resurgence of an old scourge―t's a variant of smallpox."
"Phew!" I whistled softly. "That's troubling. I thought they completely eliminated that disease."
"I don't know about that," he winced, "all I know is it's back again and those sores not only scar and disfigure folks but they're really painful."
"So, I take it you wear a mask when you go into town."
Frank nodded. "So far we've been spared any symptoms, but I hear the government is mandating this new vaccine they developed. Everyone has to show proof they've been vaccinated or they'll be fined and imprisoned."
"So, what constitutes proof of vaccination―some certificate or QR code on your phone?"
Frank chuckled. "Oh no, nothing like that. When you're immunized it leaves a circular indentation at the site where the needle pierced the skin. It's very large and distinctive―some right-wing Christians refuse to take it believing it's the mark of the Beast."
"So, these people are fined and imprisoned?"
"That's the official account of what happens to them, but what I see is they just disappear and aren't seen again."
"What do you think happens to them?"
Frank shrugs. "I have no idea and no desire to find out. But the damned thing is I'm scared to take that mark because it's more than just a proof of vaccination. You're not allowed to buy or sell without the mark and it becomes a test of loyalty to the system."
I felt a wave of fear sweep over me. ""But Frank, sooner or later they're going to see you haven't taken the mark―what are you going to do then?"
"I don't honestly know. At the moment many people get a bye because they received the vaccine but for some reason it didn't take―they have no scar on their skin. The government is thinking about vaccine passports as proof but for the time being if you're asked about the mark you can bluff your way out of it."
Then he added, "Eventually though, you either take the mark or became an un-person―you disappear and aren't seen ever again."
I felt genuine terror for Frank and Helen and a load of guilt as well. I hoped we'd be able to use them as intermediaries to barter our produce for us in exchange for other necessities. But now I saw following that plan would put them in real danger.
The circle of flesh around us was drawing tighter and tighter. It would only be a matter of time before the government would be actively checking for the mark and arresting dissidents.
The cabal and I were racing neck and neck and it was only a question of who would finish first. I was determined it would be me.