Mask of the White Death

I have survived the wars. Falling off mountain tops, being electrocuted by Japanese doctors in the name of medicine, breaking my hand, bearing blows from a tiny French woman, watching Twilight until the credits. I lived through all that and more, building up the myth that I, Poncho, may very well be un-killable (but more than capable of suffering, if anything sees that announcement as an invitation to come hurt me). But there is something that even the mightiest cannot withstand. Something that can knock us down and shiver into death’s embrace. While man’s soldiers and devices may fail, it is the humblest of creatures on Earth that won’t. Microscopic armies that cannot be fought, cannot be seen. That strike with cold calculated precision and destroy from the inside. It’s flu season in Hokkaido and I’ve prepared for war.
The school has come under attack and the casualties are numbering in the dozens. Classes of 40 are being cut down by more than half. Students are dropping like flies and very little seems to be stopping it. The teachers are so far unaffected but for how long can they hold out against the onslaught? Hundreds of children spread the virus across the grounds, hundreds of hands passing paper back to be marked. My hands touching where all of theirs have. In true Japanese tradition, students and teachers desperately try to halt the flu’s advance with the dreaded white mask. Sometimes it’s worn to prevent catching the flu, but it’s proven not to work. Sometimes it’s worn to conceal their faces (for whatever reason. I’m sure if I knew it’d annoy me). But most of the time, it’s because they’re suffering from the symptoms of a cold, and right now cold symptoms start looking a little more severe. If you see someone in a white mask right now, you know they’re already dead. Shambling corpses that continue to spread the illness with everything they touch.


You can’t fight the sickness. When the white mask approaches you, there’s nothing you can do to save them. You must accept that now. If you don’t you’ll perish along with them. Save yourself while you can! And try not to panic while you’re fleeing in terror from anyone in a white mask. I don’t intend to die with the others though. I have a plan, and if history has proven anything it’s that my plans are as foolproof as they are genius (I’ve always been a modest gentleman).


As with the best plans, it’s built on simplicity. My opponent has greater reach and strength than me; I can’t get in to deal any killing blows in a one on one fight so my only option is keep my distance. Wear my opponent out until he runs out of steam. Gets tired. Loses the strength to raise his arms let alone throw a punch. And that’s when I’ll strike back, soap and hot water at the ready to break him once and for all (if you watch any boxing, you know the tables have turned if one of them suddenly discards a glove to reveal a bar of soap).


I have maintained a minimum distance of 2 feet between myself and all potential carriers (meaning everyone with one exception). Sometimes this is not always possible though. Trains in the morning during rush-hour are too packed for the luxury of paranoia. So what can you do? There are no feasible long term alternatives to taking the train to work. But if you squeeze into a crowd of bodies so that every breath is close enough to paint you in their saliva vapour, sooner or later you’ll face someone who’s under the weather, nose to nose. So this is where I have developed one of my counter-measures. Naturally I wrap my face in my scarf and wear gloves at all times but it’s also a question of positioning. You see, when a train stops, a few will always get off and the carriage will experience a kind of flow of bodies. It’s this flow that I take advantage of. Pretending to want to get off, I enter the flow to travel through the carriage and be the first to occupy one of two favoured spots; a corner seat or a doorway. In a corner seat, you’re sitting below the majority of breathing faces and your head can be protected by a simple hat. Additionally you can easily turn away from the one neighbour you have, drastically improving your odds during the journey. Doorways between carriages are mostly unoccupied as it’s the most unstable to stand in but this means it’s likely to achieve space between you and the others. A definite strategy for the surfers among you, who know you can ride that train without needing to hold a single rail.


At school keeping the distance is trickier, but not impossible. First of all, always have something in your hands that you’ve cleaned yourself. Never be empty handed. Students ned to give you homework? Teachers have a timetable for you? Oh I’m sorry, my hands appear to be full. Would you mind putting it on my desk or on top of my book? (Yeah. Take that flu. Put that in your pipe and smoke it). Second, open all doors and windows with elbows only. Its rather unlikely you’ll ever touch your face with an elbow so this is among the safer tools to put at risk. I might look like a giant chicken, waving my elbows around to get in and out of any room, but look at it this way; who on earth has ever heard of such a thing as bird flu? It’s a ridiculous notion, of course. Those elbow moves are the safe approach. Finally, and perhaps the most boring and obvious one of all, washing your hands regularly. My fingers are pristine as I type right now. After every lesson, a short trip to the bathroom to purge the natural oils of my skin with righteous bleeding soap. Burn those invisible soldiers off in the divine crusade to rid the world of this blasphemous plague (cleanliness is close to Godliness).


I’ve had some close calls though. Over zealous students with little social understanding of personal space. One morning after coming, I discovered the laces of my boats had absorbed water from the snow and in the cold had frozen solid. It was impossible to remove them and I struggled to pry them off my feet and get to my lessons. And then the white masks came. greeting me good morning, sniffling and coughing. My laces wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t break the ice. The mask of the white death drew closer and I was trapped within my own boots. I was unable to trudge snow through the school but I knew I had to get away. With all my strength, I released the knots and triumphantly sprung to my feet, calling out good morning as I made my escape. There were classes full of the white masks, the teacher included. Every English word spoken aloud followed by a sniff, a cough, a shot fired by the sickness. I dodged them all. Using folders as shields and frisbee throwing books onto their desks (Captain America style. Yes. I’m comparing myself to a comic book hero. I’ve earned it).


The war is at its peak but it will soon end. To all of you who have seen loved ones pass, fear not that you will follow. Instead, remember the fallen as they once were, while you meticulously avoid getting close to them. Erect monuments in their honour, record their names for future generations read of, so that they might know those who suffered and those who survived. The brave and the cowardly. The honourable and the criminal. The clean and the slobs. The bound for legend, ranking proud beside me, and the lost to history, complaining that nobody brought them chicken soup in their time of need. Remember them all. But for now as the war wages on. I can only hope after all of my devices, that the humblest creature on Earth does not slay me.

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