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The Storyteller Speaks

American Zombie Beauty

By Philip Baruth

Page 2

I still remember exactly how I felt the very first time I learned about how the AIDS retro-virus worked, back in the 1980’s. I felt like I was in the middle of a pretty damn good game of soccer, and then the ref told me at the half that the goals had gotten mixed and I’d been scoring against myself the whole time. I mean, come on—retro? Some chick you couldn’t even remember any more could be the death of you, ten years after the fact? You going to tell me that shit is fair? But eventually everyone reworked their sex lives around it, gay or straight, young or old. Everyone started looking at each individual bareback coupling as a ten-year biological wedding contract. It became the new normal. And then along came the anti-retroviral cocktails, and that sharp sense of unfairness faded away with the remnants of the twentieth century.

Until the twenty-first century, and the Berkeley Rage.

Mid-summer 2012, and suddenly reports started pouring out of Berkeley—riots, killings, blood in the street, no one knew what was going on. The only thing we knew was that a lot of people had been killed in the street by a lot of other people, but no one knew if it was a gang thing or cult thing. Turned out it was a retro-viral thing: a forty-year retrovirus that had popped up in Northern California in the mid-70’s and spread much like AIDS in the various free love communities back then.

But this virus, LDV, remained dormant for four full-fucking decades, and then it multiplied and swarmed the brain of the infected. And it quickly impoverished their blood in some way that we still don’t really understand, so that they actually stay alive—if you can call it that—by feeding on healthy blood and tissue. And they’re not real good about taking no for an answer. Seventeen National Guard troops got their heads opened by those first Berkeley Jerrys. But, as tends to happen with anything retro-viral, it got a lot worse once experts understood the scope and the origin.

Most of the original transmission occurred at Grateful Dead Shows on both coasts, during the 70’s, and the 40-year clock on the virus was extremely exact—which meant that all the people infected at one show all turned Jerry at more or less the same time four decades later. So those infected at a 1972 Friday show at the Olde Renaissance Fair Grounds in Veneta, Oregon, all went Jerry exactly forty years later in 2012, no matter where they were by then. And all the folks infected at the Saturday show in Veneta in 1972 all went Jerry the very next day in 2012. And so on, and so on. If the early concert schedule of the Grateful Dead was the rootless dream of the 1960s, it played again as the endless nightmare of America forty years later. Literally speaking, every single 70’s Dead show had its own specific correlated outbreak in the years after 2012.

American Zombie Beauty, sort of.

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