This is a government-approved
Census, participation mandatory.
Citizens are required to present
themselves for compulsory
testing for signs of viral infection.

Sound familiar? Every survivor
who still retains their sentience
dreads the loudspeaker call,
the herding from shacks and
houses into the street. The gas
mask breathers with their slick
armour and flag-marked kits
forcing you to your knees. The
quick fingerstick. The wait while
the scanner churns.

“This one’s clean,” we all pray
to hear. Anything but the stunning
pronouncement of “Infected”,
the news followed so swiftly
by a bullet in the brain. Or the
brain of your neighbour,
or of your eldest child.

We’re just doing our job,
they say, as they taser the furious
bereaved. It’s nothing personal.
Don’t hate us while we’re saving you.
We watch while on our knees,
beneath the barrels of guns,
and imagine how satisfying it
might be to not be ourselves,
to be them, armoured and powerful.


By Krishan Coupland

Krishan Coupland is on the Creative Writing PhD programme at the University of East Anglia. His writing has appeared in Ambit, Aesthetica, Litro and Fractured West. He won the Manchester Fiction Prize in 2011, and in his spare time he runs and edits a literary magazine. His website is

Image: Claudio Parentela