It’s out there in the dark of night, the glow of early morning, the packed diners of day, and the rush of early evening supermarket shoppers. It’s everywhere.

It’s as deadly as a rattlesnake, but worse, much worse. You can see a rattlesnake, and hear its rattle. You can hear a wolf howl long before it’s at your door or your throat. A giant storm is seen from space and predictions come before with a name like Igor, Hannah, Andrea, or Gaston. All warm and cozy.

This thing that is suddenly upon us has been given no name. It’s so deadly, so scary, that they can only give it a number. This is H2N3. There, I’ve said it, and I tremble as if naming it gives it power.

Armed with information from the CDC, we realize that everyone out there, friends, neighbors, even family innocents, all are potential carriers. Even pets, dogs and birds can be carriers. You can Google that.

The usual suspects: the checkout clerk at the market who hands you back your tainted change with a smile; the little girl with the runny nose standing next to you at the Dairy Queen; the sweet, smiling barista with the sniffles, whose bare hand has touched a hundred other bare hands, and who affixes the lid to your venti, low-fat, no-whip, decaf mocha latte. Welcome to H2N3.

You’re chatting, reading, unaware that some viruses survive longer on inanimate surfaces such as clothing and paper.

Flu viruses like H2N3 are super-strong and determined, surviving as long as six days on some surfaces, such as the silverware the waiter puts on your table, the handshake you just accepted. Say hello to H2N3.

So what do I do? As a man approaching “advanced middle age,” I’m at higher risk. So how do I arm myself against this thing waiting out there in the street, the produce aisle at the market, the side table at Starbucks, where I’ve learned to poke a straw into the tiny hole on my cup to avoid whatever is on the lid. It’s waiting for me.

In the market I’ve become a scuttling creature. My gloved hands grip the handles of the big iron baskets (cleaned with a sanitized wipe).

With my scarf swirled around my nose and mouth to hide the surgical mask, I pluck my avocados, potatoes and bread from the racks, slipping an extra bottle of pinot from the shelves.

“You’re paranoid,” a friend tells me. “You’re a writer. You like making things up and scaring people.”

He’s right. I am paranoid. Paranoia is in the Irish DNA.

She, who is of mixed and uncertain blood (French with a touch of Irish), cautions me. “Lighten up. Your readers want to laugh. Where’s that old dark but sparkling Devine humor?”

I remind her that I tried “lightening up” in the last flu epidemic, when I attempted to get the teachers at the junior high to all dress up in clown costumes and paint their faces to make the kids forget they were sick. The idea was dismissed off hand. I was told that teachers were afraid of clowns. Imagine.

Is this what I’ve become at the end of a glorious career?

Have I become Dr. Miles Bennell of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” running through the streets shouting, “They’re coming, they’re coming”?

You’re scoffing. “He makes this stuff up,” you’re saying.

Then take this warning by the European assassin in the 1975 film “Three Days of the Condor.”

“It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.”

I would add that he extends his hand in friendship. His hand. Welcome to H2N3.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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