A Brief Note About COVID-19, and an Old Short Story

Hello. I’ve spent the past week alternating between panicking and trying to think of a coronavirus-related advice post. None of my ideas were funny enough, so you’re instead getting this inappropriately serious note.

If—for some reason—you want to get information from people who don’t write fake advice blogs, here are links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. However, if you’ve read through all of that and you’re still nervous… so am I. Things are weird right now. My college classes have all been suspended, almost every public event is being canceled, and the stores near me are completely out of toilet paper. For everyone reading this who’s uneasy, know that there’s a webcartoonist somewhere out there who feels the same way. I don’t know how much that helps.

I’ll have more illustrated bad advice to give eventually, but for now, here’s a short story I wrote a few years ago. This was part of a writing assignment I had to do in high school, but it feels apt now.

-Samantha Levenberg

“Welcome to Mortopia!

Now, there are a few rumors that need to be cleared up about this great city. Yes, it is true that a deadly virus has wiped out a significant portion of the population. However, the idea that it’s wiped out “100%” of the city, or that Mortopia’s citizens are now “just a pile of corpses”, is, quite frankly, absurd. One person died in a car accident. So, really, the virus only killed MOST of the population. And no one bothered to pile any of the corpses.

The outbreak has, of course, taken its toll on Mortopia. But like a majestic phoenix, the city has risen from the ashes, stronger and more perfect than before. For instance, ever since the virus killed off the last of its victims, Mortopia’s crime rate has dropped to almost 0! The last crime on record was committed 2 weeks ago. Peterson’s arm fell off, which technically qualified as littering. Police have been unable to fine him for unknown reasons. Actually, police have been unable to do much of anything for unknown reasons. This, combined with the fact that there is no longer any crime, has led to the decision to cut payment towards police stations. However, the paperwork involved with this decision has not yet been filled out for unknown reasons.

In addition to crime rates, Mortopia’s poverty rate has dropped significantly. Money has become an obsolete concept, as no one buys anything. Now, none of the city’s residents need to worry about going into debt or losing their jobs. In fact, no one needs to worry about anything. The last person to worry about something was Peterson, who was concerned about everyone dying from a deadly virus. He no longer worries about that, or anything else.

Of course, Mortopia would be a dull and boring city if it had no form of entertainment. As such, its citizens have developed a very unique sport. Instead of traditional pastimes, such as “football” or “basketball” (old, primitive forms of entertainment), Mortopia has “competitive decomposing”. Competitive decomposing is played much like golf, except there’s more physical activity involved. Currently in the lead is Kelly “Worm Food” Johnson, but many have anticipated that her competition, Peterson “That Guy Whose Arm Fell Off”, will overtake her. There have been a few reported problems with the sport–mainly, that no one ever shows up at the tournaments.

When the citizens aren’t enjoying the thrill of competitive decomposing or going about their daily non-lives, they’re preparing for the various holidays. For instance, Mortopia has recently finished its annual Halloween tradition of rotting in a spooky way, and is prepping for the annual Christmas tradition of rotting in a festive way.

Perhaps the most astonishing accomplishment of Mortopia is that there is no longer any prejudice. Racism, sexism, religious discrimination, and homophobia are completely unheard of here. This is mainly because nothing is “heard of” here, as the general population does not speak nor hear. The proud citizens of Mortopia are incapable of acting in a violent or harassing manner, as well as in any manner. As such, all citizens are treated equally.

Many curious visitors and tourists have a lot of questions about Mortopia. A few frequently asked questions have been addressed here:

Where can I find a good restaurant in Mortopia?

The city has plenty of lovely diners and restaurants. Everything is free, but service may be slow.

Why is it so quiet here?

Mortopia’s citizens are very quiet and laid-back, to the point of never talking or doing anything.

What’s that awful smell?

Despite Mortopia being a shining beacon of civilization, it does have its faults. There is an odd aroma to the city, for unknown reasons.

This city is just a pile of corpses.

As was mentioned previously, no one has bothered to pile them.

What was that about a deadly virus? Is it contagious?

If you stay in Mortopia long enough, you may find yourself absorbing the carefree and laid-back nature of its citizens!

Wait, hold on-

Enjoy your stay in Mortopia!”

Allison stared at the flyer nailed to a tree trunk. Two thoughts crossed her mind. The first, Who WROTE this?, she decided was unimportant in the grand scheme of things. She focused on her second thought–that her brother’s car had better start working before they end up “absorbing the carefree and laid-back nature of its citizens”. She turned to her brother.

“William! Is the car working yet?”

“No. I told you. It’s out of fuel.”

“Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”

“You… You mean jump-starting it? That’s not going to do anything. IT’S OUT OF FUEL.”

“Cut the RED wire.”

“You can understand me, right?”

“Bah!” Allison looked back at the flyer. She’d always had a strained relationship with her brother, with his “It’s out of fuel” this and “Stop yelling at the engine” that. She reached the conclusion that she probably could have fixed the car if she had just kicked it a few more times. “Durr, I’m William and I know how cars work, derp derp derp,” she mumbled to herself while stuffing the flyer into her pocket.

Allison turned her attention to the corpse-littered streets. A crow pecked at the leg of one of Mortopia’s residents. The flyer had made it clear that no one was piled, but it occurred to Allison that it was a little weird that no one had been buried, or cremated, or at least mournfully tossed into a dumpster. Everything was just kind of strewn about, filling the air with the smell of rotten flesh. Allison waved the crow off the body, then kneeled by it. Aren’t there people who are supposed to clean up roadkill? She frowned. This person wasn’t roadkill. He had people who cared about him once. People who probably would have wanted his corpse to be treated with more respect than this. A wave of sadness washed over her. It passed after a few seconds, and she started rummaging through his pockets, eventually pulling out a 20 dollar bill and a candy bar. Allison smiled after hearing no complaints from her pickpocketing victim. The citizens of Mortopia were so generous.

Allison glanced at the candy bar after wiping off a few of the maggots crawling on it. The first thing she noticed was that the wrapper had a certain “dead person” odor to it. The second thing she noticed was that the ingredient list included almonds. She scowled. She hated almonds. “Hey, guy. Really? Almonds? You’re disgusting,” Allison told the cadaver, to express her annoyance. A fly buzzed off of his face. After a minute of hemming and hawing, she removed the wrapper and bit into the candy. The smell had seeped through the wrapper and tainted the taste. Allison reflected on how putrescine didn’t seem to pair well with chocolate as she ate. Halfway through finishing off the candy bar, she became overwhelmed with disgust and started gagging. She really hated almonds.

William tapped at his cell phone while sitting against the car. Allison sat down next to him. A few minutes passed before he spoke.

“I’m not getting any reception.”

“Of course not.”


“That’s the second law of horror movies. Cell phones never work.”

“What’s the first law?”

“Don’t investigate strange noises. But hey. I’ve got good news. I have 20 dollars and some candy. Well, I HAD some candy. I ate it.”

“Where’d you find it?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

William opened his mouth to ask more questions, but then thought better of it. An hour passed, with the two of them sitting against the car, not saying a word to each other. Allison couldn’t stop thinking about how appropriate it would be to start playing a harmonica during this period. She silently criticised herself for not thinking to carry a harmonica with her at all times. While in mid-criticism, she started coughing. Then she wondered if having a lingering cough would have affected her harmonica-playing abilities. William finally broke the silence by stating the obvious.

“So we’re gonna have to find some fuel, then.”


They stood up, brushed themselves off and ventured into the city of Mortopia.

Every street was littered with decaying bodies. Even the dog park, somehow, was full of them. A few people were slumped on benches as if someone had propped them up there. An entire picnic lunch had been set up in the field, with people lying around a basket with sandwiches in their hands. Allison saw a man slumped underneath a tree, with his arm unattached to his body and being eaten by ants. She guessed that this must have been Peterson. A dead border collie lay next to him. The dog freaked her out the most. She always had the notion that, while it was okay that people died, dogs were awesome and should be immortal.

The city had an eerie muteness to it, save for the occasional crow cawing. Allison thought this was bad enough until she heard a distant cough. She suddenly appreciated the quiet a lot more. After coughing a little herself, she argued with William over who was going to look for the possibly-still-living person.

“Right. William. You go check that out. I’ll be here, bravely finding an adequate place to cower.”

“I’m not breaking the first law of horror movies.”

“Well, I’M certainly not, either. What if we both went? That way, if it turns out to be a zombie, or a dragon, or a zombified dragon, I can use you as a human shield.”

“Wow. Way to be there for your brother.”

“Hey, I love you and you’re family and all, but when the going gets tough, you mean nothing to me.”

“Great. Let those be your last words to me before I burn in undead dragon-fire. There’s only one way to settle this. We’re gonna have to rock-paper-scissors for it.”

Allison prepared herself for one of the most high stakes rock-paper-scissors matches she’d ever had. She tied twice, then lost and asked to retry before accepting that she’d have to look for whoever was coughing and wheezing. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she nudged open the door of a small restaurant building. She hacked up a substantial amount of spit and caught her breath before combing through the tables and seeing the man.

He was lifting a woman into a chair, making sure the carcass looked comfortable. Dishes had been laid out on the table in an almost appealing fashion. The man wore a suit that may have been fancy at one point, but was now torn in several places and covered in sweat. Blood dripped from his mouth. His hands shook when he saw Allison, and he dropped the woman. He blinked several times, as if his eyes weren’t fully registering what they were seeing. After a few seconds, he smiled and yelled “WELCOME TO MORTOP-” before being interrupted mid-sentence by a fit of coughing. Allison handed him the 20 dollar bill to cover his mouth with. He hacked into it before dropping it on the floor. The bill was now covered in blood. Allison took a few steps back, then asked “Are you… er. No, you’re clearly not okay. I’d offer you the candy I found, but I ate it.”

“What candy?”

“Found it off a dead… a resident.”

“You stole it? You pickpocket! Hey! Police! POLICE!!” He screamed, pointing at her. Nothing happened. “This… may take a while. Just stay there.” He started coughing again. It took him a few seconds of gasping to catch his breath. When he started talking again, his voice rasped.

“Do you like it here?”


“There’s no violence. No inequality. No sadness.”

“They’re all dead.”


Allison silently wondered if the virus that had killed everyone in Mortopia had affected his brain, or if she was just witnessing his normal behavior.

“They’re not even buried or anything. They’re just kind of all over the place.”

“Did you see the picnic? So lovely.”

“God, you’re creepy.”

“The city’s got really low carbon dioxide emissions, too. Environmentally friendly.”

“This isn’t a city.”

“It’s perfec-”

He keeled over in a fit of hacking, blood spilling out of his mouth. He desperately wheezed, gasping and gulping for air. His breathing became faster and more laborious until it stopped completely.

Allison dragged the man to the chair across from where the woman had been propped up. As she lifted him onto the chair, a notebook fell out of his jacket pocket. Allison searched through it to find that it was filled with handwritten rough drafts of the flyer.

William sat against the car, waiting for Allison. When she returned, he told her the news. “Can’t find gas anywhere,” he announced. He sighed and threw a pebble into the air. “Looks like we’ll be here for a while,”. Allison coughed a few times, using her hand to cover her mouth. She stared at the three tiny droplets of blood in her palm. Two thoughts crossed her mind. The first was that she probably should have taken the “deadly virus” part of the flyer into consideration before eating the candy bar. The second was that, on the bright side, in a short amount of time, she would no longer need to worry about going into debt or losing her job.

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