Literature (United States)
The Children Shall Be Spared
The plan is in motion. A pig sacrificed herself for the cause. When slaughtered for the highest bidder at the live animal market, her blood splattered.
Human 1 does not know he is infected, and won’t for days. Even then, he will believe it to be a cold, and days later, when the “cold” worsens, perhaps the flu. By the time he checks into the hospital, he will have passed it to 27 other sellers at the market, 3 people in line at the coffee stand, 14 patrons of the hotpot restaurant, 17 commuters on the train, and his wife, brother, and elderly parents.
His teenage daughter, who urged him to plant lotus seeds instead of butchering animals, will be spared.
More will be infected, but officials will choose not to alarm citizens preparing to celebrate the lunar new year, and so the virus will spread in silence.
We warned the humans. The earthquakes were not enough. The floods and the forest fires were not enough. Even the tsunami, with waves mighty enough for their Bible, was not enough. They who prided themselves on their capacity to be enlightened did not learn.
Human 1 has passed it on to hundreds who have passed it on to thousands, though the full extent of transmission is not yet known among them. Because of their air travel, and because their males typically do not wash their hands when no one is watching, which we did not account for, the virus has spread even faster than planned. The majority of the species still does not comprehend the gravity of the situation. They will soon see we are no longer issuing mere warnings.
The humans have grounded their planes. They think this, with hand washing, will be enough. But soap cannot dissolve centuries of brutality towards the earth. Soap cannot wash plastic out of the oceans. Soap cannot rinse grey smog out of blue sky.
We have lived for thousands of years. So many came before us and should be here today. But they have been slaughtered.
The humans call our colony the “trembling giant.” We are not trembling now.
Sick and healthy alike are confined to their homes. There are too many infected to treat. Not enough hospital beds, not enough ventilators. The humans knew of this problem before. But why prepare for a crisis if you are invincible?
Many have perished. Many more will. The humans seem shocked at their ability to control the narrative but not the death toll. But we have kept our word. The children have been spared. They gaze out their windows and watch as peacocks saunter down their city streets, as lush grass eclipses their sidewalks, as deer dare to linger on their highways. The children tire of their white walls and grey machines, and yearn to walk among the towering pines.
Soon, spring will have sprung “like never before,” the air “cleaner than ever,” the humans will report, because their memories are short. This is the way it is supposed to be, has always been, until recently. Fragrant lilac, bursting peonies. Tree trunks blaze neon, celebrating by donning a coat of lichen instead of being choked in electric lights. Dogwoods lavish the ground with pink petals. Daffodils fling open to greet the sky. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” the humans will say, but no cloud has a lining.
The children will emerge to an earth where bird calls are louder than car horns, where lawns have not been mowed and “weeds” have not been poisoned. Where drills do not pierce the earth. Where green is the primary color.
Our leaves will flutter in the gentlest summer breeze, and come autumn, our colony will flare yellow against the rocky mountains.
We have high hopes for the children. But if they too become complacent, we will not tremble.
"The dramatic drop in air pollution and the plant growth in unmanicured parks during the lockdown inspired me to imagine COVID-19 as nature’s revenge on humans for centuries of mistreatment of the earth."
Olivia Katrandjian is a writer and journalist whose reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC, PBS, and ABC News, among other outlets.
In 2016, she moved to Luxembourg to write The Ghost Soldier, a novel about two Armenian Americans in the Ghost Army, an artistic deception unit that used inflatable tanks, sound effects, and fake radio transmissions to deceive the Germans in the Second World War. The manuscript was awarded second place in Luxembourg’s National Literary Prize in 2019. Olivia will begin a graduate program in creative writing at Oxford University in 2020.