Thursday, May 24, 2012

5/24/12

Stage Four
By Jake Wickenhofer


I graduated from medical school days before the first incident was reported. It was described to me as dangerous, but isolated. The horrid disease grew to be known as the Huron Virus, named after the small community where it began. It was unclear where the disease came from, but our directive was black and white: treat any carriers. I worked alongside Dr. Tevans, an aged doctor experienced in the ways of unpredictable disease control. We treated the citizens of Huron daily in a small building that was fashioned for our use mere weeks before we were sent.
The first sign was severe nausea that felt similar to food poisoning. After a few days, the skin of the host began to fade and turn yellow. Phase three caused the victim to sleep for abnormal periods of time, growing longer and longer until they were comatose. In its fourth stage, the virus reached full strength and was transferred by any contact as well as through the air. Within forty-eight hours of reaching stage four, the host died. Dr. Tevans attended a conference of doctors and members of the CDC once a week to distribute new findings and retrieve shipments of quickly-developed medication. We had to be careful, or the doctor and I could contract the disease as well.
“The objective,” the doctor told me, “is to keep all patients from reaching stage four. There have been no breakthroughs for vaccines or cures. It doesn’t look good,” he said.
The Monday of our fifth week, we had three cases of the Huron Virus. Those not infected were urged to burn their clothes and shower thoroughly after leaving. Our first encounter with the virus for the day was a man who had terrible nausea, but his blood work showed no signs of contamination. We urged him to get plenty of rest and to come back in a week for testing. The doctor handed her a bottle of little white pills to take. He was relieved that we found no evidence of the sickness, but this didn't make him safe forever.
Our next victim's hair had turned white and her skin faded to a dismal yellow. Her clothes no longer fit after a drastic loss of weight. She told us she had been sleeping at regular intervals. Though she looked exhausted, her blood tests revealed no signs of Huron. We were certain, however, that she was a threat. We told her to come back the next time she slept longer than nine hours. Dr. Tevans gave her the same white pills that he gave the first patient.
Our third patient had been sleeping eleven hours a night and could not be woken by any force until she awoke on her own. Her skin was yellow. She was drained down to her skeleton. She fit the description for a host, but her blood work revealed no traces of the disease. The doctor took out two white pills from a bottle in his desk drawer and handed them to me. He said, “Give these to her and make sure she takes them.”
I drew a glass of water for her and watched to make sure she swallowed them.
Dr. Tevans stood at the sink washing his hands thoroughly after placing her in an adjacent part of the small building that resembled a waiting room.
“Something has been bothering me, doctor,” I said.
“Yes?”
“I thought you said there was no cure yet. What pills are we giving these people?”
He ignored my question and sat down in his chair. From his desk drawer, he took out the same blue folder he had been writing in for weeks. After he scrawled something on three lines, he led me into the room with our third patient. She was slumped lifelessly in her chair. I was afraid she fell into the coma. Before I reached for her, the doctor put his arm in my way.
“There isn’t going to be a cure.”
“I don’t understand,” I gasped as I began to panic.
“Remember the objective,” he said. “Whether it is stage one nausea or stage three coma, we are to keep all carriers away from stage four. For now, our best option is medical euthanasia.”
“The pills?” I asked.
Our business was a sad one. We became dealers of death. His office was the reaper's lair. We were judgment and jury. I regretted every second of medical school. It sickened me to no end.
I felt nauseated just thinking about it.


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My name is Jake Wickenhofer. I am a twenty-year-old author in Morgantown, West Virginia. Though I have been writing since the age of ten, I have always gotten the most fun out of writing science fiction, and I have also received the most short fiction success from such. I have had fifteen short stories published previously, several of which were science fiction in magazines like Antipodean SF and the retired Alienskin Magazine.


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