Patient Zero: Origins

Hi everyone! Wednesday has come round again and with it a new story. This is a shorter one at about 10,000 words. It’s also a prequel to Death of Gods. Well, it’s really a pre-prequel seeing as how long before that story it is. Not saying there will be a story between the two as there likely won’t unless I come up with an idea that I think is worth exploring. But that isn’t the point of this introduction. So with me having rambled for long enough, here is Patient Zero: Origins.

The room is an average sized box with windows covered by partially lowered blinds on one side that look out over the city beyond. The walls meanwhile are off-white, a TV affixed to one of them while the ceiling is made up of ceiling tiles that hide the pipes and cables that snake all over the concrete of the actual ceiling that forms a part of the floor above. It is a cool yet welcoming space adorned with limited furniture; the focus of which is the large bed elevated at the top end at it sits on casters, the lock for which is engaged to keep the bed securely in place as it sits atop the cream and grey speckled floor. It’s an unbroken mass all the way up to the skirting boards, painted a brilliant white, that cover the edges of the lino to protect it from being caught and torn from the concrete that it is glued to.

If you haven’t guessed this room is but one alongside many thousands more and make up the Obadiah Hospital. In the bed, propped up with the additional aid of plump pillows, is a nine year old girl named Julia Chantal.

Julia has been in hospital for a while because she is suffering from High-risk Neuroblastoma. It is rare for a child of her age to be suffering from the disease and though she has gone through multimodal therapy the disease, which is now in Stage 4, refuses to go into remission. On the contrary the cancer continues to rage aggressively through her body. It had started in her spine, first making it difficult and then removing entirely Julia’s ability to not only walk but stand as well. Since then the cancer has spread across many other parts of her body including her lymph nodes.

As a result Julia is overly pale, thin, her face gaunt, her body weak and her once brown hair covered head bald. Yet, for a girl as ill as she is her grey eyes still sparkle with the kind of fire seldom seen in any soul. It is both joyous and devastating to witness as she chats to her parents Angela and Tyler who dote on her in a way that only parents can, even when Julia’s doctor, Elaine Chow, carefully enters the room.

Doctor Chow says nothing. Instead, she simply watches as Julia smiles and giggles just because she is in the presence of her parents. The couple always bring the best out in Julia who misses them enormously whenever she asks, or is woken for tests, only to find they are not present. The nine year old understands why and yet every time Doctor Chow sees the little girls face drop with disappointment it hurts. Perhaps it shouldn’t and perhaps Elaine has got too close to the young girl, but she doesn’t care. If there is anyone who has more than earned their right to a long and happy life then it is Julia. That is not to say that other patients and people do not, but the young girl has been through more in her nine short years than most will ever face their entire lives.

A couple minutes pass before Angela Chantal takes note of Doctor Chow’s presence. Julia’s mother smiles broadly reminding Elaine of where it is that Julia got that broad almost cheeky smile from.

Angela, unlike her daughter, has brown eyes and black hair that stretches at least halfway down her back. It is clear, barring the hair and eye colour, that there are a lot of facial similarities between Angela and her daughter. Unlike Tyler, Julia’s father, who seems to be where Julia inherited her brown hair colour from and nothing else. Especially as the memory Elaine holds of Julia when she first came in was of the exact shade of brown that Tyler’s short closely cropped hair is as he turns to crane his neck over his shoulder having followed his wife’s line of sight.

“Doctor Chow, do you need us to leave so Julia can have a test?” Tyler queries softly.

The man always has a softly spoken tone of voice, which in no way fits with his one hundred and eighty six centimetre height.

Angela’s voice on the other hand sits in the mid-range and somehow perfectly complements not only her size, of one hundred and sixty seven centimetres, but also her looks.

Both are dressed casually in blue jeans, but while Tyler is wearing a plain sand coloured t-shirt, Angela is clad in a dark blouse over which she has a thin supple brown leather jacket. Its stainless steel coloured zip partially fastened as she bats her eyelashes waiting for a reply from Doctor Chow who by contrast has her shoulder length black hair tied back into a ponytail. It’s how the doctor always wears her hair whether she is working a shift or lounging about at home.

“No. We don’t need to administer any tests at this time…” Doctor Elaine Chow begins before Julia interjects to exclaim, “Yay!”

Elaine smiles understanding fully why Julia would react in that manner, but manages to just about suppress a chuckle, unlike her parents, before adding, “…But I do need to discuss something with both of you.”

Julia’s eyes begin to dart between her parents. No hint of a smile is still visible on her face. After all Julia knows that whatever needs to be discussed will not be done so while she is present. And the girl isn’t stupid. She knows her prognosis isn’t good. Even if she didn’t she knows how she feels and at no point is the next day an improvement over the last.

“OK.” Angela replies before turning to Julia to say, “Mummy and daddy need to step outside for a few minutes to talk to Doctor Chow. But we’ll be right back, OK Jay?”

Julia doesn’t reply to begin with. Rather, her eyes continue to flit between her parents and Doctor Chow. But after more than a minute has passed she ultimately turns her focus solely to her mother and then nods weakly.

“Chin up kiddo. It’ll only be a couple minutes, tops. Promise.” Tyler adds in an attempt to cheer his daughter up. He even tickles Julia at the base of the neck, which sends her into a frenzy of giggles in the moments before Angela and Tyler stand and then follow Doctor Chow out of the room.

Julia watches them leave without taking her eyes off them. That is until the door is closed and she no longer has line of sight on them.

Out in the corridor Angela and Tyler stand on either side of Doctor Chow so that the trio form a rough triangle shape on the far side of the bland arrow straight corridor that is some five metres wide. With them so far over to one side there is enough space for other patients, nurses, doctors, visitors and equipment to roll and trundle past them going to and fro wherever it is that they may be headed.

“What’s the prognosis Doctor?” Angela asks wanting to get straight to the point.

Her arms fold across her chest, while her head cocks to one side as she locks her brown eyes on Elaine’s also brown eyes.

“I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but there’s nothing else we can do for Julia. The cancer’s too aggressive and spread too far. We’ve put her through all the treatment we can and it’s having no affect.” Elaine sighs deeply. It never gets easier to give news like this and it is the one part of the job she truly hates. Other parts might be irritating or time-consuming, but this is incomparable in its negativity.

“There must be something you can do. Julia shouldn’t have made it this far yet she has.” Tyler says in response. His face pale, tears beginning to well up in his eyes as he speaks. The sight of the man on the edge only adds to the pain Doctor Chow feels. Yet, she has to keep it together. That is her job, her role. She can roll in the pain this brings her later when she is alone. After all, this isn’t about her. This is about a little girl whose life has barely begun and that will not continue for much longer, which is news she has now been forced to deliver to that same little girl’s parents.

“I wish there was. We’ve done everything. I’m so so very sorry.” Elaine lowers her gaze, sighs again, and shakes her head to help reinforce what she has said. It’s not conscious of deliberate however.

“How…how long has Jay got?” Angela asks. A catch in her throat forcing her to start her question over again as she desperately tries to holds back tears. Her tongue lodged firmly into a molar in the roof of her mouth immediately before and after having uttered the question.

“We…can’t say for sure. It could be days or weeks.” Elaine admits looking Angela straight in the eye. It’s uncomfortable but necessary, for both of them.

“Maybe months?” Tyler butts in trying to be hopeful before anything else can be uttered that might dash such hopes.

Doctor Chow shakes her head before adding, “I’m afraid not…”

Unfortunately, she does not get to continue as a voice comes over the hospitals tannoy system, “Doctor Chow to Ward twenty three please. Doctor Chow, Ward twenty three.”

“I’m sorry, I really have to go. But you are both welcome to stay with Julia until her time comes.” Elaine says before offering her condolences again and then departing. She doesn’t want to. She really doesn’t. But she is needed elsewhere and there is little else she can do. Sure Tyler and Angela might have questions but they have been through this for long enough to know the score. How things work. And anything they ask will only be met with responses that add further pain to their already insurmountable suffering.

Angela and Tyler have never felt more alone than they do right now. They fall into each other’s arms for comfort. Though, neither says anything to the other as they stand there. Instead, they both try to hold on. Neither wanted to admit it, however in Tyler’s case it was obvious, but they thought that Julia might make it out of this. That she would be able to leave this hospital, have a normal life, live like any other nine year old. It seems they were both wrong.

“Excuse me.” A voice says for the second time before both Angela and Tyler turn their attention to a man who is perhaps a couple years younger than their own thirty seven and thirty five years of age respectively.

The man, who has stepped forward from where neither of them has a clue, is dressed in a dark blue suit, his brown hair styled into a quiff as his hazel eyes flit between the couple.

Neither Angela nor Tyler can grasp why it is that this man has interrupted them, but it seems he is no mood to wait for a response as he announces, “My name is Archibald Lowe and I overheard what was being said between yourselves and that doctor. I just want to offer my deepest condolences for the news you’ve received…”

Tyler opens his mouth to speak but before he can Archibald adds, “However, I might know someone who could perhaps help.”

“What do you mean you might know someone who could help?” Angela queries sceptical as her eyes burrow deep into Archibald’s soul. She wishes he would take her intent stares in the manner they are meant, which are a fuck off, but it seems he is either unwilling or incapable of doing so.

“I understand your scepticism and this is in no way me trying to offer any kind of false hope…” Archibald blurts attempting to make sure that he is perfectly clear.

“…However…you have the professional opinion of one doctor. Perhaps…you should seek a second opinion. It may change nothing. But what do you have to lose?” Archibald reasons.

“And how do you factor into this?” Tyler asks sounding more hopeful than perhaps he should given as he doesn’t know this man from Adam and he could very well be spinning a tale to get their hopes up only for them to be dashed if it turns out this man is playing some sort of sick joke. Why, is beyond either Angela or Tyler, but it is possible. Angela for one knows that it is, even if Tyler isn’t willing to contemplate it with his ever optimistic attitude. It’s one of the things that drew her to him when they first met, but right now, during everything that is happening with Julia, she finds it the single most annoying thing about her husband.

“As I said before I might know someone. His name is Doctor Fogg and he’s soon to begin doing trials of a revolutionary new drug that could cure your daughter.” Archibald explains quickly. He’s seen the darkening look on Angela’s face and feels that if he doesn’t hurry then she might begin to turn that violent look into violent action.

“If what you say is true then why have we not heard about any of this from any one?” Angela questions through gritted teeth as her patience continues to waste away rapidly.

“That I cannot give you an answer to I’m afraid as I do not know. However, your daughter would be among the first human subjects that this drug would be administered to.” Archibald pauses to breathe and then continues, “Like I said it is not a foregone conclusion that it will cure your daughter. However, you seem like good decent people in need of a…change in fortune.” Archibald concludes.

That is why several seconds later Tyler exclaims, “We’re in.”

“No we are not.” Angela spits back chastising her husband with her tone and the added bonus of an angry stare.

“No decision needs to be made yet.” Archibald feels the need to stress before things take a turn for the worst.

“I will however give you Doctor Fogg’s contact details, including his number. Encase you wish to contact him.” Archibald says as he produces a small business card from one of the pockets of his blazer and then extends it, face down as it sits between his index and middle fingers, toward the couple.

“Thank you.” Tyler says as he accepts the card and takes it from Archibald, much to the annoyance of Angela who continues to glare at her husband even as Archibald bids his farewells, turns and then departs to allow the couple to argue amongst themselves. And without doubt that is what is going to transpire.

A smile splits across Archibald’s face as he strides confidently down the corridor. He covers maybe ten metres of the arrow straight stretch before he raises his left hand up to his ear and whispers, “Targets approached. Seed planted. Expect contact soon.”

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