by Matthew Salesses
We liked to predict the epidemics on our island before they came. But only one person was ever right. He predicted the epidemic of insomnia and the epidemic of indecision and the epidemic of bad jokes and the epidemic of lost children, though of course he couldn’t predict them all, not even more than two percent. We knew him and once admired him, though recently we’d run him into the hills. He’d developed immunity to the epidemics and that seemed to us why he could predict them. He was not part of them, like we were.
He predicted the epidemic of insomnia before he was immune; those late nights rolling endlessly in our sheets we couldn’t stop thinking of his guess. We thought of it with awe and then anger and we said maybe he’d caused the insomnia and without that to worry us maybe we might sleep. We asked him to predict the next epidemic and we tried hard to catch it, and we felt relieved when he was wrong and it wasn’t an epidemic of kindness, though we had no problem with kindness. We almost forgot about him being right until he was right again.
The second time was after the epidemic of shared dreams when each morning talking to each other we recognized our dreams and felt connected. As the dreams faded he predicted the epidemic of indecision, and indeed we spent months doing nothing, so unable to choose, and the epidemic seemed terrible but also almost nice and lazy and also like it was out of our hands and again we thought maybe it was in his hands.
But another year passed before he predicted the epidemic of bad jokes, as if his joke was to be right again. We thought maybe his prediction was the first joke. Still we enjoyed the epidemic and didn’t blame him—it was good to get all those punch lines off our chests. The children became natural kings and queens of the epidemic and we liked that as well. When they played basketball we called them our court jesters. When they played cards we said they always trumped our hearts. When they played hide and seek we cried, come back, you’ve disafeared!
It seemed the worst joke of all when he predicted the epidemic of lost children, his second right in a row. Then we had to run him up into the hills. He said that he was immune—and we were afraid of him, of him possibly spreading his immunity and of his predictions more prophecy than guess. He said we were all crazy and our children should lose themselves far away, as far as the outside world. But he was supposed to be one of us. After our children reappeared they helped us chase him into the hills and that seemed proof enough that something was wrong with him. The children could sense something wrong.