SUNLIGHT'S THE CURE
Dreamed 1990/12/29 by Chris Wayan
My cousin Juno is marrying Leaf today. Yeah, they're both women. So sue us.
As I drive over to Juno's apartment in downtown San Francisco, women on the radio protest the lack of studies on AIDS in women. How vulnerable are they, compared to men? Saliva, vaginal secretions, menstrual blood--how infectious? Kissing, oral sex... what risks are acceptable, when are barriers needed, what barriers WORK? No one knows. Because male researchers think of it as a gay men's disease. And it's not. Women, straight or gay, have mostly been silent. Or silenced. EQUALS DEATH, as the bumper sticker says...
Juno and Leaf's apartment is full of sexy art that resembles my own pop sensibilities. Nagel's erotic prints, cels of the Little Mermaid and Tinkerbell. Horses and tigers--sexy animals. I feel cheered up: they'll understand my own art. Both Juno and Leaf are in Overeaters Anonymous and I can relate to their hanging these icons of slenderness and femme on the walls--whether or not they're ever attainable's not the point. You don't see Christians going around point to each others' crucifixes sneering "Trying to be like Jesus, huh? Tormenting yourself with unattainable perfection! You'll never be like him!" But weight? Open season! On weight, Americans think they have a License To Rude.
My cousins and I load up gear for the wedding and head for the Castro.The Lavender Church. It's specialized in gay weddings, since... I dunno when. Since all the other churches won't.
It's cold inside. We're the first wedding party of the day. But not the last.
Funny--what opponents of gay marriage don't get is that gay marriage has been here all along. Because people make commitments regardless of what the state admits. And religious freedom means they have a right to marry--if not in the church they grew up in, than in churches they build themselves. And they have. The only political issue is what the GOVERNMENT will recognize. And if it accepts some churches' marriages and denies others, the State's discriminating by religion--and besides being unconstitutional, that ignores plain facts. People get married.
If individuals want to live in denial, in fantasy land, it's fine with me. But not governments.
Hmm. I was going to give you lots of local color, figuring all the San Francisco stuff would entertain my devoted fundamentalist readers, but you know, weddings are weddings.
The main thing I recall is my own selfish scoping out of the wedding guests, since I'm still single.
Like black-haired birdlike Ana, in a shining blue dress, and an aura of intelligence, and, alas, a partner, Cheyenne, a big type in a suit. Boy or girl you ask? Who cares? Ana's taken. Ana's loved. And I'm not. Envy envy. A hot blonde in red, from Leaf's family, with high sexy boots somehow complementing that long waterfall of hair. What's her name? I shy away from her, partly my own timidity, partly the swarm of kids around her that says she's got somebody. As the reception goes on, the kids detach from her one by one and turn out to be other people's; kids just LIKE her. When they throw the bouquet and the garter, for the singles to catch, I'm too shy to even reach for it. But the mystery blonde does! She was single, and I feel stupid now for not talking to her.
At the reception, most everyone dances. Except a little boy who asks a girl near me, who sneers "No!" A sudden flashback for me... which way, you ask. Both, both. Being rejected by the beautiful, and being sucked up to by the creepy... no wonder I've stayed single.
Mountains of food--mostly soft bland foods like mashed potatoes, overcooked carrots. I'd forgotten half the guests are from OA; they have their own regional cuisine. Silence = Death, but Abundance = Security. I mean, Flintstones cereal at a wedding? And the guests go for it, too! Someone tosses it instead of rice. Little Freds Barneys Wilmas Bettys Pebbles and Bam-Bams fly round the room, fall under our feet. We dance on it, crunch crunch! Stomp those bedrock conservatives! My aunts and uncles crunch Fred's head...
Hurrah! The Fred is dead!
And so my cousin weds.
A house in an Alpine valley, owned by a health foundation. A little girl called Heidi goes through her daily ritual--feeding the heads. I hate to watch, it's sickening. Living swollen human heads, beachball-sized, dry and scabby, eating bowls of rice. Or did I wilfully misunderstand her, hear "rice" for "lice"? Little white things fall off the heads and dust the floor, as they eat. Could be lice... Ugh.
A virus mutated these people into living heads. But the symptoms are different in other cases: the illness seems as horribly inventive as Hieronymus Bosch. The foundation's been trying to isolate the cause of the plague. It's spreading fast.
I'm attracted to one of the researchers, a tall pale freckly English redhead. She's the first staffer to catch it, though not the last. She's unlucky; she dies of stress, for her body just can't manage to make the radical changes the virus demanded.
Heidi, nursing the monster-survivors seems... malevolent. She also caught the virus early, and though she doesn't seem to spread it, the consciousness looking out of her eyes feels like the disease entity itself, not her. Alien.
Even the other infected staffers scare me now. A hungry mean look. And I sense they want to lash out, bite, spread it. Like rabies. "It itches," they complain, thrashing, unable to scratch it. Whatever "it" is.
I survive, uninfected, puzzled why.
One day, I'm looking at a clump of plants and decide they ought to be weeded--spiky weeds, and in the way. Each stem has a ring of spikes (like a guard-dog collar) at every joint. The stems seem swollen and smell edible, an earthy scent like burdock root.
But then one broken stem slithers off. It's a snake! A very peculiar snake, with rings of cilia or spikes. No Earth snake looks like that. Are these alien snakes spreading the virus? I try to catch it but it slips underground. I report it to the surviving Institute members. At least we now know how the disease spreads, and why it's so inconsistent: snakebite, not contagion. Unnoticeable bites, when weeding or just walking through brush, or rummaging around in closed spaces...
I flee the valley while I can. It's mostly aliens now anyway. They send a burning yacht down the river out of the valley, ostensibly to drive the snakes away, but possibly to SPREAD it--the boat's piled with brush where snakes could hide.
I return to my secret Batcave, below my mansion, Monticello. Did I mention that I'm Thomas Jefferson, mild-mannered millionaire, in my daily life? But I'm Batman in the night.
I go upstairs to Monticello, and find Hemings, our Old Family Retainer, besieged in the pantry. Our stuffed crocodile has come to life, under alien influence, and it's chasing him round the kitchens, snapping at his shins while he whacks it with a broom.
And little Heidi is flying around him like an angry Tinkerbell, throwing her own kind of darts at him, sneering "I won't dance with YOU! I wouldn't marry YOU!"
I confront Heidi, the virus-voice. Say "I know the cause of the disease."
She just chants "But youuuu don't know a cuuuuure, so NYA NYA NYA!"
"I know how to prevent it. I know why I've been immune, and why it's so spotty." I haven't told others, but now I see that was foolish. If other humans know too, killing me would get the virus nothing. But now, what if Heidi SHOOTS me? So I bluff, say "I've told others already--SUNLIGHT'S THE CURE. Your disease can't tolerate the light of day." I haven't nude sunbathed much lately, but I've hiked a lot and got tanned arms, neck, and face. The first to die, the English girl, was pale and freckly and avoided the sun.
From Heidi's horrified expression, I've guessed right. Sunlight's the cure.
So I find a nudist colony, through a friend. I tell her my theory. She admits "We're all immune, at least so far." It's the coldest time of year, and my news encourages people to push the limits of nudism. My friend, for example, makes a sort of thermal shawl out of an old shredded American flag, covering just the cold-and-sunburn-prone spots on the nape and shoulders and collarbone. Add a patriotic eyeshade and some hair ribbons and a pouched belt and feathers and jewelry... a winter ensemble that keeps her just warm enough while keeping nearly all her skin bare to the light.
She also paints three stripes between her breasts. What do they symbolize? "Garter snakes!" she beams. Support your local snake!
Finally, we nudists build a starship and head for the world that the plague-snakes came from.
Earth may be the blue planet, but this one is white. Clouds, mist, warm drizzle. Warm seas and islands, moist and gray. I worry the ultraviolet here's too low to protect us.
We land near an alien village and head through the jungle toward it.
They're humanoid. But what a confusing people! They appear tribal and low-tech at first glance, but the water supply is in metal pipes, and they have an extraordinary number of bars and pubs, WITH slot machines and legalized gambling... The village feels like a movie set, built just for us to report favorably on--a literal tourist trap! In the fog and all, I feel like I haven't even left San Francisco.
In the village square, I pass an Earth girl counting phonemes of the native language. "Similar to ours" she says. But is it mimicry? She's surrounded mostly by men, ogling her nude tan body. She looks mildly provocative by local standards, I gather, since people here wear loincloths. Though not much more. To prevent the plague?
I go into a bar, but it's gloomy and I feel uneasy and think "snakepit!" Go back out into the town square.
Now a crowd of local women has gathered around the Earth linguist, touching her dry, tan skin in wonder. I go over. The sexes stay largely separate here, I'm told. But as they examine and pet her skin, I do the same to a native woman. Her skin's very soft but damp, slippery, like a newt, but warm and responsive and, well, exciting; I stroke her thigh and then reach up under her little skirt. She's all wet and slippery up there... I get hard, and can't hide it of course, being naked. She touches my erect penis curiously. Both our bodies shiver in pleasure. But I do worry--can I catch the virus like this? What's safe here? An unknown world! In this weak watery light, is my immune system strong enough to protect me?
And in the end, a lot of us do catch the virus. The local form of it, though, which seems much milder than the virulent form on Earth. I don't feel malevolent, or want to spread it. The main symptom is shapeshifting, but here it's VOLUNTARY. Rather than the horrors of Bosch, I and others seem to be able to take on any form we can clearly visualize. I hope to be able to fly, once I master the architecture of wings. And we don't fear sunlight--this variant doesn't mind it a bit.
I still hide my infection, fearing I'll never be allowed back on Earth if I reveal it. But unlike the victims of the nasty strain, I want to tell the truth.
To stand in the light.
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