Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
The new epidemic is already beyond its patient zero. Whether or not I am infected, I am confident that Mr. Bridestar will soon have me murdered. He will do this in order to keep the disease’s name unknown. I won’t let him win, though. At least not completely.
Although this may be the most important writeup of my life, I admit that I may somehow still be wrong in my medical assessment. It is possible that I am simply losing my mind. For that reason, I will not violate my oaths as a physician, nor will I violate HIPAA. With that said, what follows are the facts of this case to the best of my knowledge.
I am a hospice physician, and a patient under my care is dying of something contagious for which there is no official name. My efforts to perform independent research are being suppressed, and I suspect that I will soon be silenced permanently. As I attend to the palliative needs of what is likely this new disease’s “index case,” I will do my best to report what I have learned during my patient’s final days.
I suspect that the virus must be a new mutation within the Rhabdoviridae family. The patient’s history suggests that this is an extreme-latency virus with a highly variable incubation period. It can likely infect a person without producing any symptoms at all (at first.) This asymptomatic period may last for an extended amount of time. The virus is probably also never fully eliminated by the immune system of an infected person, meaning that there can be relapses and transmission of the virus even if a patient seems to recover.
In the case of my terminally-ill patient, the most obvious symptoms have been largely reminiscent of textbook rabies. Statements from those listed as his family members report early behavioral changes in the man. Most notably, the reports describe facial spasms marked by characteristic back-and-forth oscillations of the eyes. This was followed by a hyperreactive and violently erratic episode during which patient zero was first hospitalized.
Most prominent in the early, prodromal stage of the disease were reports of uncontrolled eye movements. Both eyes were said to randomly “seek” rapidly across the patient’s field of vision in a back-and-forth pattern. In hospice, this motion of the eyes still occurs periodically. I have observed it myself. The patient largely suffers from prolonged absence seizures with random periods of writhing, screaming, silent crying, and semi-coherent vocalizations. These behaviors are interspersed unpredictably throughout his otherwise comatose presentation.
The coverup of this disease’s existence has been sanctioned by powerful forces. It is already active. Security cameras show that two men forced their way into my locked office last week. They somehow infiltrated the hospice facility in the middle of the night, and they carried off heaping armfuls of the medical records that I had stored there. Somehow, the facility’s alarm systems had been completely deactivated before those two men arrived. There was no security or police response until I discovered the break-in myself the next morning.
The following day, I received a phone call a call in which the caller threatened my life. It came from a self-described “government agent” who spoke with a voice like a mellified dog bark. He did not identify himself or the alleged nature of his affiliation with the United States. The honey-soaked rasp on the phone told me, “You’ll be lucky if you only lose your medical license after this is all through.” He then told me details about myself: my age and sex, my work history, and my home address. The voice said that I was very close to drawing “an unsafe kind attention” to myself. “The kind of attention,” he added just before hanging up, “that leaves you humiliated before you die in agony.”
To give a sense of the challenges in treating an advanced rhabdovirus infection, let me briefly explain the world’s only current “cure” for a rabies infection that’s been allowed to take hold in the human nervous system. The Milwaukee Protocol is believed to be only sparingly effective at best, and yet it is the best treatment that modern medicine currently has. It has saved the lives of less than a quarter of the rabies victims it has been attempted on.
The procedure involves subjecting the patient to a sustained, medically-induced coma by about by the use of broad spectrum anesthetics. Heavy antiviral doses are then administered while the patient’s nervous system is still in this “shut down” state. The patient is essentially brought into a near-death twilight, and their barely functional circulation system is then inundated with virus-hostile chemicals until the rabies virus has been eliminated within the nonresponsive body. Again, this severe treatment does not usually even work. Shutting a patient’s body down to near-death and then soaking them in antivirals has only shown promise to occasionally save a patient’s life.
Scientists think that the first HIV cases in humans occurred in the early 1900s. The first known cases in the United States were likely documented erroneously as other conditions as early as the 50s or 60s. The medical community only recognized that a new virus was there (and in need of a name) after the 1980’s had begun. This new rhabdovirus could already be anywhere, and it might already be everywhere. If I’ve started to notice it, then its evolution has probably been a long time in the works. I’ve begun taking cultures from patient zero’s body. Rabies is spread through saliva, and is usually only transmitted by a bite, but my preliminary research indicates that this new virus is still alive and shedding viably into the patient’s urine, sweat, saliva, and blood.
Cytopathic indicators are triggered in every sample that I’ve managed to take. Let me reiterate this point. Literally every type of bodily exudation from patient zero seems to carry infectious, virus-shedding material. I believe that it was my storage of these research samples from patient zero in the lab of the hospice facility that led to the military-style government intervention event that would occur later that same week.
The tremoring and full-body seizures of patient zero present in a way that is distinct from other types of involuntary movement. Often, the patient’s eyes will begin to oscillate back and forth rapidly, and this motion will then spread to his entire face and head. Patient zero will then usually begin swiveling his skull back-and-forth vigorously, as though violently rejecting something in front of him with a vehement “no” gesture of his head.
This back-and-forth of the face then spreads to the shoulders, at which point the involuntary spasms take over the rest of his body and very much resembles a standard tonic-clonic (or grand mal) seizure. It was upon seeing this presentation of the virus that I resolved to publish my research results. Backlash be damned. I was collecting my notes to submit them when the first military-style intervention inside the hospice facility occurred.
Soldiers came and ransacked my office, and upon returning home I saw that they had been there too. They took files, broke everything that wasn’t valuable to them, and were gone again without an explanation. At the hospice facility, I met their leader. The way he spoke was exactly the same as the mellified-dog-bark voice that threatened me with death over the phone. Dressed in a suit and holding a thin document folder in his hand, the man’s eyes locked onto me as soon as I found him standing there outside patient zero’s room.
“Dr. [REDACTED],” he said immediately. He used my full name to show that I was already known to him. “Allow my to introduce myself. I am Dr. Adam Bridestar, a specialist with the Center for Disease Control.”
“Let me see your credentials,” I said immediately. I felt confident that the man’s name and claimed association with the CDC were both surely false. I suspect that the man with the mellified voice never tells the truth, unless he’s making a threat. Bridestar waved me off with a smarmy grin as a soldier approached him.
“Sir!” began the soldier uneasily, “Are you sure it’s safe to go inside the patient’s room?” The man called Bridestar rolled his eyes and thumbed the folder in his hand open. He raised the document inside for the soldier to see, and with his other hand he pointed to a line of text.
“Right there. ‘Transmission from body fluids.’ You won’t get sick from breathing the air, you precious little thing. Now go on.” I reached forward to snatch the folder. If Bridestar was holding a report about this mystery illness, then I wanted to see it. Bridestar fought me with both hands, and after a moment of struggle, he tore the folder away with so much force that papercuts were left on my palms. He scowled silently in my direction, as though considering how to handle what I had just done. Before the man with the slime-slick voice wrestled the file away from me, however, I had managed to read the title on the document. In large, capital letters, it read:
“Go home,” Dr. Bridestar told me as he snapped the folder shut and handed it to the soldier next to him. “Immediately.” I did as I was told, because the soldiers all held rifles and were clearly under Bridestar’s command. I am sure that he is the same man who threatened my life over the phone earlier. I’ve confirmed on the internet that there is absolutely no person called “Dr. Adam Bridestar” working with the CDC.
Patient zero’s “family” told me he was born in California in 1974, but his social security number doesn’t match this story. I can’t get any of patient zero’s alleged relatives to return my calls anymore, either. I wonder what else from this man’s patient history was fabricated. Was it all done to obscure facts about how the man came to be infected by Rattle-Face Fever? He died around noon today, in any case. Severe and sudden hemorrhaging probably left him with less than half of his blood still inside the circulatory system at his time of death.
The patient’s convulsions and hematemesis in those last moments made that entire wing of the hospice ward a potential biohazard. The walls, floors, windows, and door of his room were left soaking in infectious fluid. The unidentified “government agents” came again to confiscate the body. They also forced our staff off the premises. This time, the armed soldiers arrived wearing heavy hazmat suits and helmet respirators. Bridestar was with them once again, similarly dressed in polyethylene coveralls. I could barely see his features behind the full-face ventilator mask, but I recognized his voice when he ordered me outside.
I had been in my office when patient zero began to flatline. The armed men arrived before I could even be alerted by a floor nurse that there had been a death in my unit. Bridestar’s agents barred my door from the hallway until they were ready to move me outside. I only saw the aftermath of patient zero’s final moments as I was ushered past his room. I had checked in on him quite recently, and had caught the patient in a rare moment of semi-lucidity. Patient zero had looked directly at me then, and his eyes began to oscillate rapidly as he focused on my face. The pupils scanned back-and-forth across my face with involuntary motions that were so fast and minute, yet sustained, that it looked like his eyes were vibrating in his skull. Patient zero spoke, but said only this:
“Keep your distance! Say your prayers!”
That was all he said, and then another full-body seizure took his awareness away from me. It was at this point that I retreated to my office. Bridestar’s men arrived to clear the facility of staff and patient zero’s body within a quarter hour of the dying man’s last words. Did they hide a surveillance device inside his room? How else could they have known so precisely when things would go from bad to worse?
My heart hasn’t stopped racing since I was told by those men in ventilator masks to “go home.” I’ve taken a sedative, but I still can’t sleep. I’m anxious that those same armed men are going to kill me, just like the man with the gross voice promised would happen. I keep imagining what Bridestar might have meant when he said that he’ll have me “humiliated” before I’m tortured to death. More than that, though, I am afraid because the sedative hasn’t helped at all to calm my hyperreactive responses to stimuli.
I’m feeling irritable, and sensitive to light. My eyes flit compulsively to identify the source of every noise. Is it just fear, or is it Rattle-Face Fever? Twice tonight, I’ve felt my eyes seek rapidly back-and-forth across the room, and I don’t think that I intended for them to move away from the computer screen. Left-right… Left-right-left. There it goes again. Am I just scaring myself, or am I sick?
I was so careful, but new epidemics rarely unfold just as the physician expects. For now, what else can I say?
Keep your distance, and say your prayers.
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Check out David Feuling’s critically-acclaimed trilogy of novellas, The American Demon Waltz, now available on Amazon.com.
All three novellas in the trilogy described below are included in the compilation:
“Bravo Juliet” is a survival horror military thriller, and the first novella by acclaimed fiction author, David Feuling. It tells the story of an elite soldier serving under US Army Special Project: Acrylic Geist, before she is betrayed and left to die in the wilderness of war-torn Vietnam. Brutal injuries, debilitating sickness, and the growing Lovecraftian threat of “The Maw” test not only Bobby’s will to survive, but her grasp on sanity itself.
“Witness to Those Waiting” is the second book in the “Bravo Juliet” series. Master Specialist Barbara Balk returns to investigate the subterranean mazes carved out beneath Kosovo’s towns and streets. From her entry through the Ngordhje churchyard, she must face undead horrors and ancient evils alike in her quest to return to the surface with answers.
“Vechnaya L’Vitsa” pits Corporal Barbara Balk against new foes in the depths of U.S. Covert Command Outpost (USCCO) #241. Leading a team of six soldiers and tasked with defending the experimental LISEMEC superweapon until it is ready to fire, can Bobby hold out long enough while under siege? Her resolve will be tested by supernatural forces, enemy sabotage, and the expansive Antarctic wasteland itself.
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