The good part was that it was very hard to transmit. Someone had to say, "Yah mo b there!" to the carrier after he said something about a grapefruit festival in Woodstock, Illinois. The virus did not care what, exactly the carrier said to prompt that reply from the other person. It could be an invitation to the festival, obviously, but it could also be a general comment about there being a grapefruit fest in Woodstock (there is not) and then the person hearing about it would have to express interest in going to it using precisely that statement. Once "the phrase that slays" was uttered, (as the evil bioscientist who concocted the virus called it), the carrier would turn an ashen gray and his eyes would fill with pus. The person who said "Yah mo b there!" would not become ill from this encounter, since it takes another two weeks for the virus to become transmittable. But once the carrier wound up at the hospital all covered in pus? Oh man, look out.
"First, stand behind the yellow line until I tell you to step forward. Second, the what-fruit huh-stival? I am from Woodstock, Illinois, son, and there is no goddamn grapefruit festival."
The carrier started to perspire, but not from the virus. That had to be activated, as I said, by a very specific response to a statement about a non-existent festival. It also could not be activated by the refrain from Michael McDonald and James Ingram's 1983 hit song of the same name which--coincidentally!--was playing softly over audio speakers embedded in the ceiling. It had to unfold exactly as the mad scientist intended, after which all of humanity would die of pus within three weeks.
If this TSA agent continues to give me a hard time, the carrier thought, I just might confess the whole evil scheme. Luckily, he had the composure to say, "Did I say Woodstock? I meant Decatur."
The TSA agent stared at the man for a long, long time, long enough to annoy all those people who had also just disembarked from a 17 hour flight from Johannesburg. The agent made doodles on an official looking piece of paper. He plucked at the base of his blue latex gloves. He stared at a blank space in front of his station. Seriously, let's fucking go already! Once the agent felt that the optimum level of boredom and impatience had filled every person in the room, but not a moment sooner, he said, "Step forward!"
* * * * *
It's hard to say why Gavin agreed to kill off all of humanity. It was something to do, he supposed. He tried teaching but that did not work out. High school. The kids were either sullen or mean. He tried acting but found auditions tedious. And then that stint at Home Depot? Even worse. What did he know about home maintenance, or aisles? So when Dr. Radinsky and his cult came to him with that plan, he thought, "This is my chance to have a real impact on the world."
Months of training with the Doctor in a remote village in South Africa followed. Lots of running, lots of karate lessons.
At night he would lay back in the tall African grass, stare up at the Southern Cross, and say to his girlfriend, "Hey Sally, all the virus needs to activate is a word or phrase, right?"
"Yes," she'd say.
"And the catalyst can be something simple, any old word like 'yes' or 'no,' right?"
"Yes. What's your point? Get to it, Gavin. Jesus."
"My point," he would say as he fed another peanut to Elwood the Elephant, "Is that rarely if ever does someone say 'Yah mo b there' even when invited to cool, definitely existing events."
Sally said nothing.
"I just think he's making this scheme far too hard for all of us." (Here he was referring to their death cult.)
"Gavin," Sally said, adjusting her bra because she had very large breasts and a lousy bra supplier, "Bob is a mad scientist. If he thought up a scheme that made sense, he would not be mad."
Gavin nodded at her logic. Then Elwood trumpeted as only an elephant can. Then the three of them laughed and laughed.
* * * * *
On the night of November 19, 2014 at 10:23 p.m. Central Time a man stood outside a Doobie Brothers concert at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee Wisconsin. The man carried a virus in his bloodstream so potent and deadly that it made other deadly diseases seem like monocular conjunctivitis. The man's name... was Gavin.
"One free ticket to have lunch with Michael McDonald!" he shouted repeatedly to the crowds exiting the theater. "One free ticket! Tomorrow only!"
This was his best scheme yet, and he wondered why it took him ten years to figure out. Every day, for over a decade, he approached strangers and invited them to a Woodstock GrapefruitCon that did not exist, and every time people ignored him, told him to go away, or mentioned that Woodstock was the town where the movie "Groundhog Day" was filmed despite the fact they called it Punxsutawney.
In the meantime Gavin had returned to teaching. Much better this time. (You had to treat the kids like adults, he realized, and not be afraid of disciplining them. They respect that.) He also began working at Lowe’s part time, which was so-so but definitely better than that run at Home Depot. As for acting, to hell with that.
"One free ticket! Meet the man who performed with the Doobie Brothers around 40 years ago," he trumpeted. But not like Elwood did. Only an elephant can trumpet like that. And then he whispered really quickly, “And there’s also a grapefruit festival in Woodstock, Illinois.”
"Excuse me," a woman said emerging from the crowd. She had long bangs, a t-shirt with R&B star Michael Ingram's photo on it, and weird hands. "Did you just offer tickets to meet Michael McDonald?"
"Yes I did! Well, a ticket. Not tickets. And I will only give it to the person who utters 'the phrase that... pays.' Plusthere’sthisgrapefruitfestival," he added very softly and quite quickly, "inwoodstockillinois."
He smiled since the phrase would not pay for anything. In fact, there was not even a Michael McDonald lunch the next day in Milwaukee. Not there, not anywhere, not anytime. He was close to success, at last. Ah, but it would be bittersweet since Gavin would be the only cult-member left to celebrate.
Dr. Radinsky was dead. He accidentally ate one of his own super-common-cold wafers (a terrible name for it, since it seemed to emphasize the commonness and not the potency). The cult dissolved shortly thereafter. And Sally? Well, she left before that mishap even, got a breast reduction and a husband, and became a Lutheran. Even Elwood stopped answering his emails.
But this night, he felt would be the night.
The young woman in Milwaukee looked at Gavin and said, "A chance to have lunch with my hero, Michael McDonald!?! Yah mo--"
"Wait just one minute."
Just then Michael McDonald stepped into the frame.
I want you to conjure him before your eyes right now: 6'11" tall. A white mane pulled into a florid pony tail. A thick gray beard pulsating in the unseasonably cold night. Designer jeans. Hand-made Italian leather shoes. A black leather jacket, also from Italy, also hand-made, cascading from a popped-collar to platform heels. Shirtless. A perfectly shaved, perfectly waxed chest fit for Michelangelo's chisel. A pair of blue eyes which glowed like radioactive Smurfs.
Now hear his rich baritone as he speaks:
"Wait, I say: I came here as a fan, as a friend. Not as a performer. Because I too love the Doobie Brothers in a totally separate and unrelated way from any association I may have had with them... Gosh, over three decades ago now... Anyway, as to all this 'lunch' stuff, I got news for you: No me b there."
Just then an albino lynx, eight feet long if it was an inch, two tons if it was a gram, came and sat at Michael McDonald's side. The lynx scowled at Gavin, raised his lips in a fearsome feline sneer. The alabaster fur around its maw was stained red with the blood, its dagger-like teeth chunky with bits of manflesh.
“This is Linus,” said Michael McDonald.
Gavin slowly lowered the pretend lunch ticket. He looked stricken. Ashen, even, but not from the virus.
"Come on, Lisa," Michael McDonald said. "I hope that's your name. I know you wanted to get lunch with me. I can’t do that. But I hope you’ll be satisfied… with a late dinner instead."
Michael put his arm around Beth (her real name) and threw a smug, “Burned you, dude” look over his shoulder at Gavin as he, Beth, and Linus walked into the frigid Milwaukee night.
Gavin never felt so alone, so dejected. He felt as bad as he did during those first few weeks teaching. The first time he taught, that is. Slowly, he left his post outside the theater and joined the happy Doobie Brothers fans (no, there is not another kind) and walked back to his hotel. It wasn't a very long walk. The hotel was next door.
Maybe it was time to give up on this silly dream of killing every person on earth. After all, the rest of the cult did. So did Sally. Even Elwood--who as an endangered species would have the best reason to kill all of us--even he skipped the program. Maybe it is time, he thought as he turned the faucet of his hotel bathtub, to hang it up.
And he did.
There's no switcharoo coming up where the hotel clerk or the maid or some random person accidentally said the phrase to him after he also accidentally mentioned the grapefruit fest out of years of habit. No, man. It wasn't like that. Everyone lived happily ever after.
The moral of the story is that Gavin and Sally and Elwood and Michael and Beth and Linus got their shit together. And you can too if you just dropped your dumbass hang-ups.
When you close your laptop or set down your phone or close this copy of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, I want you to go to the mirror and take a damn good look. Ask yourself, "What is the earth-killing pus plague in my bloodstream right now, and how is it holding me back?"
You'll be glad you did.
And hey… You're welcome.