Short Story Review: Herd Immunity (Tananarive Due)

the_end_is_now_500Nayima travels alone through California in a world that, until recently, was choked with cars and people spilling in and out of cities and towns on their way to work or school. But no more. It’s the apocalypse. The 72 hour flu has sprung and most of the world’s population is dead, leaving cars parked in lots and still full of gas, and every town a ghost town. The survivors are the genetically lucky NI’s–naturally immune. There is no cure; there is only luck. As Nayima travels she spots a man ahead of her and follows him out of a desire for human companionship. Her desire for another person in her life is the heart of this story: the reason for survival. Due beats this desire into the world like dust off a rug–you watch the clouds rise and choke you.

“[Nayima] didn’t want to hurt him. She didn’t want him to try to hurt her. She wanted the opposite; someone to keep watch while she slept, to help her find food, to keep her warm. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d wanted anything so badly.”

I loved the world Due created. Nayima follows the man to a county fair and Due makes it clear this not like other apocalypse stories. With the 72 hour flu, there was no time for the world to collapse. Either you died or you didn’t; there wasn’t even weeks for looting and destruction. The fair is still intact and Due captures the haunted loneliness of this world.

A few bonuses:

  1. this story stars a woman of color living through the apocalypse
  2. Due crafts tragic plot twist that reinforces the loneliness she has spent so long creating

“Herd Immunity” was originally published in The End is Now (2014) and was reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine in Issue 52. Read the story at Lightspeed here.