||April Dunagen was the last. Everybody else was dead. All those white motherfuckers who had treated her like shit. All the black ones who were little better. Dead. The yellow, brown and red who had never really done anything to her, except occasionally sell her a cheap brass ornament, a plate of chicken chow mein, a small cork sculpture or a woolen sweater.
Dead. The good, the bad and the indifferent. Only April, one insignificant black girl from a lousy dump of a town in Alabama.
The plague had been ruthless. Worse than the Black Death, deadlier than A. I. D. S., typhoid and leprosy combined. It got into sealed rooms, ignored medications, spread like gasoline. Humboldt's Fever, they called it (those who had held on the longest), after the man who had identified the strain thirty seconds before it shut down his lungs. Humboldt's Death.
And only April had been immune. Why? No one (she) would ever know. But
she had ideas.
Andy Warhol said everyone is famous for fifteen minutes. April figured Andy was almost right. Everyone had some small thing that makes them different, a kernel of talent to offer the world. Most, like herself, passed on without ever knowing what that something was. Perhaps a bag lady, if she had had the breaks, might cure cancer. A policeman, if he had been born to a family that hadnt been filled with violent drunks, might create beautiful music. Instead, he writes traffic tickets. What if --what if -- maybe --
Well, April knew her talent. She didn't turn into a great ball of quaking mucus -- sore-covered, bleeding to death on the inside -- around small bugs. She was glad about that. Humboldt's Death looked painful. But now April was all alone. Dad, a hopeless hypochondriac, dead. Her brother Stevie, a local celebrity in rap circles, dead. All of them, even Seth Barker, the white kid down at the Pay'N'Pak. The only guy to ever make love to her. No better -- dead.
There had been theories about the plague. Germ warfare. Mutations from a research lab. Random evolution. All possible. But April didn't know for sure -- not until she met the green man.
She had been sitting in the empty movie theater that she liked to visit, snacking on concession chocolate bars, when she heard footsteps. The sound brought such a well of emotion. She wasn't alone after all! Then she saw him -- and screamed.
The green man was human in appearance, except for his color. April knew immediately that she wasn't looking at some cheap Hollywood lie. He hadn't been painted. He was green. She saw it in how he moved, that his skin, though smooth like her own, had a fibrous quality.
His mouth opened. It was green inside as well. So were his teeth. "H-hel-l-oo," he sighed.
"What are you? What do you want?" begged April, not bothering to hide her face.
"C-c-c-o-o-m-m-e," the green man beckoned with his hand. He turned and walked out of the theater.
April followed cautiously. Out into the street, she tagged behind a few feet, always leery.
Eventually the green man stopped at an overpass. From there the two observers could see the strange and wonderful things happening below and beyond them. There were many people, all like the green man. Large empty pods lie next to strange-looking trees. Now that she knew where they had come from, April had an inkling of an idea. About the plague. About the planet. About life.
Humboldt's Death hadn't come from any laboratory. The virus had come from Nature -- the Earth. It seemed then to April as if the planet had been trying for millions of years to develop the right germ for a -- pestilence. And hadn't Man become that? Hadn't he dug where he chose? Killed species without thought. Polluted land, water and air -- Man, the Great Infection, had been neutralized. But why was she still here? And why did the green man want her to see this? Answers were forthcoming.
The green man turned to the black girl. His hands, rough and barky, took her shoulders in a warm, kind embrace. His yellow-flecked eyes stared into her hazel-browns.
April made no reply, only thought of this world, which had been her home and the home of her species, thinking of the green ones sad, remorseful apology.
"I'm sorry, too," said the Flea to the Dog, the Dinosaur to the Proto-Rat.
The green man ran then, speeding to join his brothers and sisters, who frolicked and played in this new Eden, born from the carcass of the old. And April could do the only thing left to her.
For -- joy.