Ten years ago, a super virus rapidly spread across the world and forever altered the course of society. I remember when the first cases of infection in Russia, Canada, and Greenland were reported on the news. I had finally graduated from high school, an event that could not occur soon enough for me after growing up in the boonies of Pennsylvania. Unlike many of the young males of my town, I was not obsessed with football or other team sports. I dreaded even having to participate in these during gym class, because this meant tolerating overly competitive classmates. I couldn't care less whether the "black shirts" or "yellow shirts" won a game of kickball during third period. I was a science geek and itched for independent learning and higher education. My interest in space science became particularly fueled by the discovery of a strange elongated comet near Pluto by a Hawaiian observatory around the time of my high school graduation. Based on its speed and estimated path of travel, astronomers were certain that this comet originated from outside of our solar system. At the time, my inner-nerd was excited at what answers about the Universe and life that this interstellar visitor could bring to us mere humans. Looking back, the superstitious could have claimed that the comet was an omen of the worldwide deaths to come. The initial reports of the infection described an airborn disease with increasingly severe flu-like symptoms. However, medical researchers were adamant that this was not a flu virus, as the virus contained two strands of DNA while influenza is RNA-based. Regardless, coughing and sneezing ensured the contageousness of the pathogen. Global and mass transit systems also ensured that the illness spread rapidly from the far north as unsuspecting carriers boarded busses and planes. I myself caught this mystery virus and got very sick. I was bed-bound for nearly two weeks. However, my immune system managed to fight off the sickness and I recovered. I still lost my job at a grocery store at the time for missing too many days. Looking back, I have no doubts that unsympathetic employers forcing sick workers to come in help fuel the spread of the super virus.
The virus moved through the Earth's population for nearly two years. Not surprisingly, highly concentrated population centers were hit the hardest. China and India's populations were devastated as a third of their people lost their lives to the super virus. Similar numbers were reported from Europe. Largescale American cities, such as Chicago and NYC, faced similar outcomes from the pandemic. Overall, the world lost nearly 30% of its population when the last few cases of the mystery illness finally fizzled out. Society didn't degrade into anarchy and violence like in apocalyptic movies. This makes sense, since a quarter of the world wasn't mysteriously raptured in an instant. Everyone was fully aware of the illness impacting them and their loved ones for two years. American society, though, did have some transformations for those of us who survived. A significant decline of available labor and a drop in production numbers helped negate the extreme power gap between the super-rich and everyone else that developed by the 21st century. While this depressed the economy, the sudden need for workers allowed individuals more flexibility in deciding where to work and to argue for better levels of compensation. The quality of life and available resources for survivors improved. Runaway inflation was also negated, as costs for products and services dropped. A part-time job paid for my college education, whereas people previously had to go into large finacial debt to finance their higher education. Of course, there were social and personal consequences that still impact us today. Suicide rates in all countries spiked during the first few years following the pandemic, adding indirectly to the already impressive death toll of the disease. However, suicide rates have declined the last decade and are almost as low as their pre-pandemic numbers. Still, the so-called "mental health epidemic" before the pandemic had nothing on the demand for mental health services. Two out of three people you meet now are prescribed something for depression, anxiety, or a multitude of other mental and emotional disorders.
I thought I was just joining the hordes of the mentally a few months ago when the dreams first started. I thought that maybe as I was entering my late 20s, the true damage from the trauma of losing family members and friends to the pandemic was emerging. The first dream I can remember was a hectic mix of strange images and sounds. Intricate shapes I don't ever recall seeing before. Sounds I could not identify. I swear I also saw colors that I never saw before, as in new colors that didn't have any names that I knew of. I didn't know what was happening, but what I saw was so vivid and bright. After a few more similar instances, the dreams started becoming more concrete. In one, I was talking to someone else, but they weren't human. They were a person-they stood on two legs, had two arms, and a head. But their skin was gray, their skin seemed hairless, and they were far thinner than any human I had ever seen. The fingers on their hand seemed too long. Their mouth was little more than a slit on their face below two nostrils. Their eyes seemed to be amber in color, aside from vertical slit that might have been a pupil. The being wore some kind of skintight, silver fabric as its clothing. I was not horrified by this figure in front of me. Rather, there was a familiarity. I knew this being personally. I was conversing with them in a language I did not recognize, yet I understood it in the context of the dream. I almost felt like I was on autopilot, or an interloper in my own body. We stood outside on what I would describe as a balcony that was made out of a material resembling ceramic. It appeared to be nighttime, but soft light radiated from the balcony's ceiling above us. The light itself seemed to be produced by the same ceramic-like material as the rest of the balcony. Beyond the nonhuman figure, I could see structures that might have been buildings. However, these didn't seem to be made from brick and mortar. Some looked ceramic-like, while other seemed completely metallic. Still other looked to be made completely of colored glass. These structures also twisted, curled, or stuck out at degrees that no conventional building would. The familiarity of these alien images would linger in my mind the following day.
As I said before, I thought I was going insane. But after searching some of the elements of my dream online I discovered a discussion board. Here, other people were posting similar dream experiences to mine. There were hundreds accounts of gray-skinned humanoids, strange buildings, and inexpiable technology. Many of these posters echoed what I had felt about these dreams. That is, these were not dreamlike. These dreams felt too concrete, too real. Too familiar. More than one discussion on the board centered around the idea that these visions were not dreams at all. Maybe what we are all experience are memories. What would that mean? How could we have those memories? On the discussion board, we also discovered that those of us experiencing these dreams had all caught the super virus a decade before. Researchers recently announced that they believe the virus also changed our genome. Essentially, genes from the virus bonded with the DNA within those who survived its infection. Did this mystery DNA carry these supposed memories like a storage device? Or did the virus awaken dormant memories that were already within us? Who are the beings in these phantom memories? Are these memories of Earth or some different planet altogether?
Thank you for reading!