Maddie saw the flyer on a lamppost. It was weathered with rain but was neon pink and it stood out from its dingy surroundings so much she could see it from a block away. The fliers beneath it had grown faded and dirty, a greyscale version of the movie posters and shouty politics she used to see there.
She walked up to it, and pulled it down. The flyer read:
“If you’re seeing this, you’re a person who is willing to take big risks to be able to go outside. We need ten people like you to be in our first human trial of a new experimental approach to a COVID-24 vaccine. We believe it works. It primates, it has a ten percent mortality rate.”
Then a phone number for the Washington State Center for COVID Research.
Maddie read it, walked a few more paces, then stopped. She stood there very still for several minutes, staring at the pavement, rubbing the flyer slowly back and forth between her fingers. When her eyes finally focused, she realized with a jolt that she was standing in the middle of the intersection. Heart racing, she darted her eyes between the streets in all directions. She could see the road rolling down the hill, all the way to the waterfront. It passed through rows of office buildings gleaming golden in the fading sunlight. It was three lanes across. She didn’t see a single car.
Maddie’s heart was still pounding when she made it back onto the corner of the sidewalk. Maddie turned back to look at where she’d been standing, and with another jolt, she realized that sometime since she was last here a month ago the stoplight had burned out.
That was when she decided.
Maddie walked all the way to her small apartment at the top of the hill, her eyes dazed, mind whited out, as though she had just read her own obituary in the paper. She made herself a cup of tea and set it down on the kitchen table. It sat there for a while, got cold. Maddie stared out the window. Eventually she picked it up and took a drink of cold rosehips. She was sitting on a stool by the window, worn from use. She spent most of here evenings here now, with her forehead against the cold glass, just staring out just over the treetops to where she could faintly make out the hills behind them. The window frame, so painfully familiar, was thick and lumpy with layers of old paint, and over time she had absent-mindedly peeled away at it until it had exposed the years of different colors like rock striations on a hillside.
At some point her neck began to cramp, and she shook herself and looked back at the tiny kitchen behind her. She owned exactly three plates, one for each meal, and they were all in the sink. Her kitchen table was now her office and was covered with a plastic red checkered tablecloth that she had originally bought for outdoor picnics.
Everything just large enough for one person. No room for anything new to happen. She hadn’t realized it, hadn’t had words for it until she’d seen that flyer. If it came down to it, if it came down to a choice between that and spending another year inside, she would rather die. This vaccine could kill her. Either way, she thought: she would get out.
So she picked up the phone and she called them. And at 8 pm on a saturday night, they picked up, and they asked her to come in the next day.