The cover of the spiral notebook on the desk read “I don’t just panic at the disco, I’m highly dysfunctional everywhere” and was appropriately ironic. Today was a black ink kind of day. Black ink meant something was official. Blue was an acceptable substitute that implied the writer didn’t think the subject was as serious or official. Red was for editing or drawing attention to something. Green was a sign of rebellion. Only people asserting how different they were used green. Then there were glitter gel pens, a lot could be said about glitter gel pens. They were supposed to be fun and were mostly used by girls, especially when writing love notes. Nothing says “I love you” more than glittery ink. It also says, “I am trying too hard” or “I probably need therapy.”
If the computer sitting on the desk corner could talk it would be berating. “You know, I’m here to make your life easier. You should really type what you need to say where you don’t get writer’s cramp. Besides, your writing is sloppy, and no one can read it.” What do computers know? They are only as smart as the person who programmed them or created their operating system. This computer had never been upgraded from Windows XP, only an idiot would trust it.
There were many reasons that the notebook was appropriate, even if it would take months, or even years, to decipher the hieroglyphic writing. There was a good possibility in the future no one would be able to access the computer either because of lack of power or not having the technology to do so. If the Nag Hammadi Library could survive over fifteen hundred years in a jar before its discovery, then a notebook placed in an airtight poly plastic baggie used for comic books theoretically could fare just as well. But how to start the story?
I am writing this for whomever may come across it. There was this movie several years back where a mad scientist brought dinosaurs back from extinction. “Life always finds a way.” Does it? Were they talking about all life or the dinosaurs? Does this apply to humans? Maybe there is a small community out there somewhere surviving. Maybe aliens will visit Earth one day and wonder what happened. Maybe they will bring humans back like that movie brought back the dinosaurs. Maybe chipmunks will become the dominant species of the planet and none of this will matter.
Somewhere there is probably a group or two of ragtag survivors. I like the word ‘ragtag’. It should have been used more. At any rate, no one in my state made it, and my time is limited…
Everything started when people became stupid and started believing everything that celebrities said. It was bound to happen. The more popular someone is, the more social status they have and the more social status they have, the more prestige they have. The more prestige, the more success they have. The more successful they are, the more likely people are going to follow them. Evolution states that if you copy another who is more successful, you will become successful and have a better chance of survival. The huge flaw in all of this is celebrities. They aren’t successful because they are smart. They are successful because they are good looking, because they are rich, and because they can do amazing things like match their lipstick to their shoes. Let me just say I have developed an uncontrollable urge to punch everyone in the face who has ever said, “Doctor Oz says…” And so, the age of pseudoscience science was ushered in. It wasn’t solely his fault, but he certainly helped normalize it much like Donald Trump normalized running a country over Twitter.
Years back a doctor published some falsified study claiming vaccines caused autism along with a plethora of other health problems. He lost his medical license over it all and his research was redacted, but not before he retired claiming his research was just “unpopular”. It should not have been unexpected in a world where people prefer to get their medical advice from a talk show host rather than a doctor, that a celebrity would come along promoting these ideas long after they had been disproven. She was a self-declared expert writing books, doing speaking tours, and appearing on talk shows. Doctors were obviously lying about the safety of vaccines so what else were they lying about? People turned to alternative medicine. Who needs antibiotics when you can drink urine? Snake oil made a comeback, only now it was made from actual Chinese water snakes and high in omega-3 fatty acids. So is tuna fish, but no one was going to use it to treat insomnia.
The anti-vaccination movement opened the door for the denial of other sciences. Everything was challenged. Religious groups always denied the existence of dinosaurs based on Biblical data. I want to say religion never hurt anyone, but who am I kidding. Religion is its own kind of plague. Two words: faith healers. We really had no chance against a pandemic…
Cable providers supplied more than two hundred channels to their customers. How one person is supposed to watch that many channels is anyone’s guess. They would have to dedicate their life to watching TV. Having a Neilson box is not the answer either. It was surprising that no one had petitioned for channel surfing to be an Olympic sport. Just the internet implications would be awesome. Reviews of the best chairs for the sport that provide the ideal posture, debates on how to hold the remote control, diet recommendations, not to mention the thumb workout videos. It would be an easy gold medal for someone that never watched more than five minutes of anything on TV.
What the hell are they even saying?
“Taking this vitamin and mineral combination just once a day will curb your appetite and speed up your metabolism.”
So will cocaine.
“Extreme weather is not caused by global warming. The computer models generated from data going back as far as 1900 are unreliable…”
“Sarah claims she was abducted by aliens and brainwashed. Her mother says she is mentally ill and needs help.”
Alien abduction is still more legit than climate change being a hoax.
“Someone in the audience was just diagnosed with cancer. Where are you? Come forward and be healed in the name of Jesus!”
Yes, Doctor Jesus is in the house. At least it’s not Doctor Oz.
“The Blackhawks beat the Sharks yesterday 2 to 6.”
“Scientists are saying it’s not actually a new bacterium but an evolution or adaptation of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria responsible for the Black Death. Increasing temperatures across the globe are being blamed for the mutation.”
The Plague staged a comeback tour and it was bigger than ever. We’re talking Gippsland earthworm big. It’s safe to say no one took the original announcement seriously. Hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap made people believe they were invincible. There were three problems.
The first: People thought the plague was a thing of the past, therefore they couldn’t catch it. It wasn’t common public knowledge that Africa racked up around two thousand cases a year.
The second: few people regularly washed their hands. You couldn’t get most people to dust, let alone wipe anything down, unless it was the kitchen. People were afraid of salmonella, trichinosis, e. coli, and campylobacter. That last one causes dysentery, and just not on the Oregon Trail. Not that hand washing prevents insect bites or discourages personal space violators.
Lastly, someone somewhere at a keg party misheard someone talking and thought Yersinia Plague was an underground death metal band. That person posted something on a message board on the internet. Of course, no one wanted to seem out of the loop and Yersinia Plague because the greatest band to never exist. One thing led to another and newly signed band to Sumerian Records changed their name to Yersinia Plague as both a joke and to capitalize on the hype. It was a great publicity stunt that ensured the band success, and no one knew any different. Naturally, this created some amount of confusion.
Yersinia pestis causes three types of plague. The most well-known form is bubonic plague which is transmitted by insects, most commonly rat fleas. It causes buboes, or lymph nodes the size of chicken eggs. The second is pneumonic plague. Let’s face it, anything that is described as having “flu-like symptoms” strikes as much fear in people as Ric Flair at seventy. Lastly there is septicemic plague caused by direct contact of contaminated food and objects and presents an excellent case for good hygiene and cleaning all the food crumbs out from under your couch cushions.
Hotter temperatures and mild winters meant more mosquitos, fleas, lice, and bed bugs. The overuse of pesticides meant insects were becoming resistant. City overcrowding made matters worse with hundreds of thousands of people living in close proximity to each other exacerbated the situation. Add in the tens of thousands of people who went to regular sporting events and concerts, churches that held a couple thousand people, air travel, and cruise ships. It was a recipe for disaster. All it takes is one contagious person to cause the downfall of society. That goes for stupidity as well.
Ground zero for the pneumonic plague was a Yersinia Plague concert. The band was determined to break death metal stereotypes as much as possible. After some negotiation the band manager, record label, and public relations firm compromised by hiring Cedar Sagewind, spiritual healer, reiki master, and wellness influencer. Not what the band themselves wanted, but it came with one unexpected and welcome advantage, it expanded the demographics of the band’s fanbase to women over the age of 35. Yersinia Plague was the first death metal band to have MILF groupies.
Sagewind returned from a meditation retreat in Africa less than twenty-four hours before Yersinia Plague was set to start touring in support of their first, and only album, Pandemic. He admitted to feeling under the weather and was quoted as saying, “It’s nothing that perineum sunning won’t fix.”
The last plague pandemic was in 1855 killing twelve million people. It wasn’t a disease that people had knowledge of like the flu, conjunctivitis, chlamydia, or scabies. If asked, doctors would have to look up the symptoms and incubation period. Sagewind assumed his flu-like symptoms were brought on by jet lag, downed a couple aspirin and readied himself for a night of crowd surfing.
Those familiar with diehard fans will tell you they never wash their hands. To them any germs, dirt, or body fluids that came with touching their idols, and in most cases groping their asses during crowd surfing, were never to be washed off. It would be an act of sacrilege.
The next morning Cedar Sagewind was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The news traveled at the speed of the internet. By the end of the day police were providing security for the hospital due to rowdy fans and the media. Others lit candles and sent all their healing energy his way. Less than thirty-six hours the members of Yersinia Plague and every person in attendance at the concert crowded hospitals and clinics.
Then the deaths started.
Another day at the lab was over. A day made stressful by a petri dish shortage. It wasn’t just the petri dishes though, it was Carl.
“For the love of everything Sebastian, will you stop puttering?” Gloria stepped away from her microscope returning her glasses to her face. They sat askew and too far down her nose. One could say she wore her glasses haphazardly.
“I don’t putter!”
“You are puttering.” Jason looked up from the computer where he was imputing data. “That is the third time you have looked in the cabinet. You looked in the one next to it twice. What are you looking for, anyway?”
“Petri dishes. Why don’t we have any petri dishes?”
Jason sighed. “Budget cuts.”
“And the test tubes?”
“Budget cuts.” Jason was now tapping his pen on the side of his desk, an act he did under stress, irritation, or when in deep thought.
“How are we supposed to do research without the basic necessities?”
“Can’t you reuse some of the old petri dishes?” Carl thought he was being helpful. If budget cuts were being made, they could start with Carl. Carl was the reason every employee brought their own roll of toilet paper to work and locked it in their desk. The guy stole toilet paper from work on a regular basis, sometimes by the case. What one guy needed with that much toilet paper was an unsolved mystery that was probably best left that way.
The ‘do not touch’ shelf in the laboratory refrigerator contained no less than two dozen petri dishes housing what could only be described as bacteria art. Someone went through a lot of trouble to grow E. Coli in swirls, checkerboard squares and crop circle formations. Carl squinted and watched as the dishes were removed from the refrigerator and stacked on a nearby counter. As the ager and bacteria were scraped into a biohazard bag, Carl’s face cycled through many shades of pink and red before it decided on Rage Red. “What are you doing?” Of course, Carl was behind this.
“You said to reuse petri dishes.”
“Those were on the do not touch shelf!” His voice carried the inflection of a small child who’s older sibling just stole their favourite toy.
“There is no scientific basis for growing E. Coli crop circles.” The last dish was tossed in the sink.” I seriously hope that these things don’t melt in the autoclave.”
“You can’t autoclave plastic dishes. You have to clean them the old-fashioned way.” Gloria stepped away from her microscope. She was a human post-it note full of reminders that had prevented interesting lab accidents on more than one occasion.
Sterilizing plastic petri dishes meant mixing one-half cup bleach in four and a half cups tap water and soaking for two minutes then submerging in an alcohol bath to remove the bleach mixture. The big question, was it safe in the lab to get them air dry properly with Carl running amok?
“I have spent weeks on those cultures!” Carl’s inner small child was on the verge of a tantrum.
“And I need them to do actual research. Some people actually spend their time working here, not grow germs for Instagram pictures, or whatever you do with them! You are aware this is an infectious disease lab, right?” The petri dishes were now soaking in the hottest water available from the tap to help melt away the last of the agar jelly. They needed to be thoroughly cleaned before they could be bleached.
“E. Coli is an infectious disease!” Carl’s nostrils flared as he stamped his feet.
“Not one that we study,” A stress headache was starting to form. “Even if we did, we wouldn’t be growing it in crop circles!”
Jason sat back in his chair. “You’re wasting your time. We don’t have the stuff in the lab to make agar. They all come pre-made.”
“I know.” Every other lab had the means to make their own petri dishes when needed. It was deemed an unnecessary cost and redundant when we were buying already prepared petri dishes. “I’m going to have to take them home. At least there will be something in my fridge other than week old pizza.”
Tonight, was the perfect Friday night. Chinese take-out and channel surfing followed by making ager and setting up petri dishes. Maybe it would be filmed for YouTube. “Scientific Cooking with Sebastian” was sure to be a hit.
“The jellyfish has lived 600 million years without a brain.”
There is hope for humanity then. Especially Carl.
“In 1937 his sister said he had ‘hats of every description,’ which he would use as ‘a foundation of his next book.’”
Who is Doctor Seuss? Have none of you read The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins? It’s a classic! I take back what I said about humanity.
“Get rid of litter pan hassles with the CitiKitty! Comes with, training seat and insert, guide, tip card, and catnip. Flushable cat litter sold separately.”
For all those childless people who call their cat their ‘baby’. They too can experience toilet training just like real parents.
“Four hundred nineteen people have died from what doctors are calling ‘super pneumonia’ contracted at a Yersinia Plague concert last week. Local hospitals are flooded with patients as the disease spreads.”
There is nothing super about pneumonia.
“Death metal is Satan’s music; Yersinia Plague is the worst offender! God is sending a warning that we need to do something! An end must be put to this music! These deaths are God’s will!”
“Spiritual leaders in Africa have suggested, in what seems to be a case of irony, wellness influencer and spiritual guru to Yersinia Plague, Cedar Sagewind, may have been exposed to pneumonic plague during his most recent visit to their country.”
Wait…419 people sick after attending a Yersinia Plague concert. Sagewind exposed to the plague while visiting Africa…
SHIT! Better get started on those petri dishes. We’re going to need them.
It’s impressive that Africa has been able to contain their yearly plague cases to the country. Cedar Sagewind just had to come along and ruin their perfect track record. Some facts about pneumonic plague:
· It is caused when the bacteria Yersinia pestis is inhaled into the lungs
· It is highly contagious.
· Infection occurs when a person comes into close and direct contact with an ill person already infected with the disease.
· Incubation time is anywhere from less than twenty-four hours to four days.
· It is unstable outside a host and lives less than 24 hours on surfaces.
· If not treated within 24 hours with antibiotics, mortality rate is 100%.
Life has changed drastically since 1855. There are over six billion more people and they live closer together. Society likes to find new ways to squeeze more people into less space in an effort to make canned sardines jealous. It is next to impossible to avoid other people and therefore almost as impossible to get a fast spreading disease under control quickly.
One man returned from Africa after exposure and attended a concert exposing over 11 thousand people to the plague. Those people in turn exposed their friends, family and co-workers. From there medical workers were exposed, people at grocery stores, nursing homes, church congregations and students. It was passed between people on buses, taxis, trains, subways, cruise ships, and planes. International travel took it to other countries. No one was safe…
“Carl was sent to collect plague samples at the hospital.” Gloria didn’t look so well when she delivered the announcement Monday morning.
The beaker exploded in hundreds of tiny shards of glass when it hit the floor. Jason stood on the edge of the glass minefield. “Collect is an interesting word. Is this collect as in just go to the hospital and pick them up, or is this collect as in go to the hospital and them himself?”
“I wasn’t told.” The colour was slowly returning to Gloria’s face. “Does it matter? This is Carl we are talking about. If he screws this up…” She didn’t have to finish the sentence. Everyone was thinking the same thing.
The chance of something getting loose in the lab was low, as long as proper precautions were taken. Carl had never been the most reliable of lab assistants, and it just wasn’t the toilet paper thing. He did the minimal amount of work possible in favour of browsing internet dating sites on his phone, taking selfies with various things around the lab, and playing solitaire on the computer instead of writing lab reports. There was also the time he put his lunch in the lab refrigerator. He was irresponsible, unreliable, impulsive, and careless. Now he was being trusted with pneumonic plague samples. Only it wasn’t being called pneumonic plague, it was being called “super pneumonia.” Anyone paying close enough attention could figure it out. Now Carl was the proverbial monkey wrench thrown into the works. Carl was capable of indescribable chaos.
Exactly a month ago Gloria started keeping track of every lab accident, every contaminated experiment, every incorrect or misfiled lab report, and every time someone was unable to do their work because of Carl. She currently had a twenty-seven-page document hidden away on one of the computers.
Jason finally looked at the floor and let out a long sigh, “I suppose I should sweep the floor. At least the beaker was empty. You know, when I heard it shatter I had flashbacks to my first year at University when my chemistry professor dropped a beaker full of hydrochloric acid on the floor. It ate through his shoe and his sock. He tacked his sock up on the bulletin board in the lab as a reminder of lab safety.”
American’s have always been weird about going to the doctor. They either don’t go, choosing to wait out any flu-like symptom with a bottle of cold and flu medication containing a major component of methamphetamine or they take every sniffle to the emergency room. In the wake of “super pneumonia” it didn’t long for waiting times in crowded hospital waiting rooms to increase and doctors being overbooked on appointments. Other countries weren’t faring much better. Even Africa, who had plenty of experience dealing with the plague, could no longer keep it contained. They encouraged other countries to start testing for it. If any country was an expert on the plague, it was Africa. Naturally, they were ignored.
A renegade doctor — that was the word used by the media, ‘renegade’, I think he just had a weird sense of humor — complete with a plague doctor mask, started administering tests. In an interview he stated that the mask was in order to provide the full plague experience to patients. When the first test came back positive pandemonium broke out. Travel restrictions were put in place, entire cities put under quarantine. People rushed to stores to stock up on toilet paper and ice cream as a state of emergency was declared. Pneumonic plague was declared a global pandemic.
Other problems arose. The science deniers were convinced that the plague was a hoax and refused to obey area lockdowns, curfews and quarantine. The return of the plague was God’s way of punishing a long list of heretics including gays, abortionists, Muslims, and everyone who has cut someone off in traffic. They were willing to accept illness and death as God’s will without question. Scientologists were blaming body thetans.
“For just three low payments of sixty-seven dollars plus shipping you can own a replica Superbowl Fifty-One ring”
“God is punishing us for our sins just as he punished Sodom and Gomorrah! He does not approve of homosexuals and he is punishing his children! He does not approve of those who would take the life of an unborn child and he is punishing us!”
I do not approve of this sermon.
“So much information, both true and not true, is thrown at us every day via the internet, especially social media, how can any of us be sure that any of it, it is true? I mean, there are all these websites and companies censoring the fact that vaccines cause autism. We don’t know who to believe. Now a handful of people get sick with a case of the sniffles and suddenly we’re all going to die if we sneeze.”
If you hold in your sneezes your head will implode. I read that someone on the internet too.
“Body thetans have lost their free will and they attach themselves to the living. They are responsible for all mental and physical ailments and must be exorcised. This is how Scientology helps people.”
I need to get out more. I’m going for a walk.
Keys. Check. Cell phone. Check. The phone buzzed with a text message as it was picked up.
DO NOT COME INTO WORK TOMORROW. THE LAB HAS BEEN CONTAMINATED. GUESS WHO…
It was prime time for conspiracy theorists, a lot of them were in the same boat as science deniers. The plague was the result of Democrats undermining the government. The plague was a bioweapon created by the U.S. Military. The plague was a bioweapon developed by Russia. The plague was a bioweapon unleashed by the African government. Switzerland is not neutral; the developed the new strain of pneumonic plague in secret in their attempt to become the next super world power. Astronauts brought the plague back from the 1969 moon landing and remained dormant until now. The plague was unleashed by aliens attempting to recolonize the planet. The plague isn’t really the plague, it started when someone had sex with Bigfoot.
Not to be outdone by conspiracy theorists, daytime talk shows provided their own brand of advice and encouragement. One talk show host provided everyone in the studio audience with a year’s supply of toilet paper. Another invited a number of conspiracy theorists onto their show to debate with actual scientists. A medium channeled several spirits from previous plague outbreaks for advice. “Medical experts” touted everything from cryotherapy to vegan diets to avoid getting sick.
Government leaders were unable to put the country at rest and the government was starting to break down. Government officials started moving to bunkers like it was Armageddon leaving the country in shambles. The public, or what was left of it, did the only sane thing they could do. They moved to Alaska. Bacteria doesn’t know Alaska exists, right? The president ensured the country that the number of plague cases were going down while failing to report the death rate. The CDC contradicted him. The media was the only one able to pain an accurate picture of the state of the nation.
DEATH METAL BAND BRINGS BACK THE PLAGUE
DEATH METAL BAND HONOURED DISEASE NAMED AFTER THEM
PLAGUE NUMBERS GO DOWN AS MORTALITY RATE INCREASES
SOCIAL MEDIA RESPONSIBLE FOR SPREAD OF INACCURATE INFORAMATION ABOUT PLAGUE
PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR PROVIDES PRESIDENT WITH PLAGUE FACTS OBTAINED FROM SOCIAL MEDIA
RELIGIOUS LEADERS CLAIM PLAGUE WAS PROPHESIED IN THE BIBLE
SCIENTOLOGY MEMBERSHIP INCREASES AS MANY “WILL DO ANYTHING” TO PREVENT GETTING THE PLAGUE
PRESIDENTIAL SPIRITUAL ADVISOR HOLDS CONFERENCE TO PROMISE ‘SUPERNATURAL PROTECTION’ FROM THE PLAGUE INFECTING THOUSANDS
HEAD OF PLAGUE TASK FORCE SAYS HE WILL PRAY FOR GUIDANCE ON HOW TO HANDLE THE SITUATION
7 PLAGUE CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND WHY THEY ARE PLAUSABLE
The large number of people distrustful of doctors turned to alternative medicine and posting six-hundred-year-old plague cures such as rubbing your entire body with a cut onion, drinking vinegar, and garlic-yarrow tea on internet message boards. These cures obviously worked because people survived the plague back in the day.
Quarantines and travel bans went into effect. People were secluded in buildings with bodies of the deceased while government officials debated how to collect and dispose of the bodies. Business closed. Supplies slowly ran out. The only people who were remotely prepared were the end of the world doomsayers and survivalists. Not only did they have a three-year supply of over-salted canned meat stockpiled, but they also had enough guns and ammo to supply the nation’s army, just in case. Just in case of what? Were they worried that the plague was going to inadvertently cause a zombie apocalypse? Did they plan on shooting people threatening to relieve them of their over abundant toilet paper supply? While these groups were prepared for isolation, they didn’t have the common sense to get tested before congregating in their bunkers and nature camps. No amount of camouflage and duct tape could save them.
In the end there was no last-minute miraculous cure to save the human race from itself. Streptomycin, gentamicin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin existed. These drugs were known cures for the plague. Humanity didn’t need to die out this way. The human race survived so much over thousands of years, now hubris and ironic stupidity provided it’s downfall. The only thing that mankind couldn’t adapt to overcome was itself. Chuck Palahniuk wrote in his book Invisible Monsters, “All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.” I guess we got boring. Maybe, like every other parent dealing with insolent children, he just got sick of our shit. Maybe the universe just has a sense of humor.