The year is 2060 and Earth has changed faster than anyone could’ve stopped it. Pollution, global warming, greenhouse gas effect, and chemicals spills have increased the level of toxins on our planet. The waters are polluted and the ice caps are melting at an accelerated rate. Not every state has been covered. California is still around. It’s funny because that’s the same state everyone said would float off the map and into the sea first. Yet, here it is, staying strong and holding it together.
California is one of the few strongholds left on this planet. Not everyone could mobilize fast enough to survive the first wave. The increase of water levels stirred up some nasty hurricanes that ended up causing tornadoes and tsunamis across each coast. The intense weather cocktail landed up at the front doors of several chemical plants in the country. They didn’t hold up too well and went into catastrophic failure, causing more chemicals to leak into the atmosphere and waterways. The chemical mixture that poisoned the air caused the plant life to become toxic as well. The spores came next; the second wave that started with one patient. Patient Zero.
It all started at Saint Brady’s Hospital. I can still remember my mother recounting the whole ordeal to me like it happened yesterday.
"I need a nurse, now!" said a woman rushing into the emergency room.
Behind stood a tower of a man, with this thin figure resting ever so stiffly in his arms. Nurse Maple was on hour twelve of her endless night shift. As the woman rushed the desk Mrs.Maple shot a disapproving look towards the woman.
"Ma’am, please step back from the desk." said nurse Maple. The woman looked in shock, but quickly stepped back from the desk. "Now, what can we help you with?" Responded Maple
"My son, Brian, he’s infected... He’s hurting in his chest and throat... Please, do something... Help him!" screamed the mother.
Tears rolled down her cheeks like a dam just broke inside her tear ducts. The levees broke and streams gushed forth. Lips quivered like a child being scolded. This poor woman gasped for oxygen as each statement ached as crawled out of her mouth.
"It’s going to be a few hours ma’am, we don’t have any available rooms and the hallways are overflowing with patients." said nurse Maple.
"A few hours... Are you kidding me? He’ll die... Just look at him."
Pleading for her son’s life wasn’t on her to do list as a parent trying to raise a child in such a chaotic time. You hope for the best, try with all your might to make wise choices for them but you can’t protect them from the world around them. Leave them out too long and they’ll get gobbled up.
"Look at my boy as you turn him away to die!" the mother said as she stepped farther back to reveal the robust fair-skinned man who held the frail boy.
"Oh my... I need a doctor here! Right Now dammit!"
I heard the ruckus from down the hall and went to offer my help. I saw him, this boy who looked about nine-years-old. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. He didn’t look like a boy to me by the face alone. In fact, there was no face. Only these black fuzzy spores that consumed what would have been a young boy’s face. No one was sure what we were dealing with.
"Doctor, have you seen a spore growth this rapid?" I asked.
"No Rose, I haven’t. The first step is to collect samples. Get me the cart please?" asked Doctor Kim.
"Here you go sir," I said as I wheeled over the cart.
We started trimming away at the spores, collected our samples and proceeded to continue to slice away. We wanted to see exactly what we were dealing with under all that fuzz. I stepped away to send in our samples, but before I could leave:
"Oh my goodness, Rose, get back over here." said Doctor Kim urgently.
I stepped over to him and what I saw... Shocked me. The spores weren’t fused to his skin, they were coming out of his mouth from his throat. Bursting forth like a giant popcorn kernel. His mouth oozed some type of thick tar-like substance and blood.
We rushed to get x-rays done and found that there was a cyst on his heart that busted open to release a multitude of spores into the boy’s body. We came to realize that the boy was dead. Somehow, though, the spores were keeping his body and heart pumping. Even though we tested his brain and found no activity. His chest was moving, we didn’t know how or why because he didn’t need oxygen. We weren’t really sure why it was operating the way it was. This was the first time we saw anything like this in our ward, in the entire hospital actually.
"How are we supposed to inform his mother? Doctor?" I asked him.
"I’m not sure Rose. We have to get him quarantined, away from everyone until we know what we’re dealing with." Doctor Kim’s eyes lowered as he clenched his fists. "This is our priority now. After the mother is alerted place her into quarantine, along with the man who carried the boy in." ordered Doctor Kim.
"Yes sir. I’ll inform her immediately." I replied.
I walked away, deflated by the task ahead. As a mother myself I couldn’t imagine how I’d react if it was my precious Joey that was wheeled into my operating room. My pace was slowed but no matter how much I restricted my steps I couldn’t overt from my given path. That poor boy. I wonder how long he’d been like that. he looked like he was sleeping when we got him. No one would question that, but we were wrong. Why? How?
More Importantly, how was I going to answer that for the mother. I saw her pacing near the help desk. Frantic for answers to questions we still didn’t have enough information on. How do we tell he we cut her baby open to salvage organs for testing. We sliced that boy to pieces of a puzzle that used to be human. She never got a chance to see him again, but we couldn’t waste time. The poor woman signed her son over for tests not knowing what that meant, hell, we didn’t either at the time.
"Ma’am?" I approached her gently.
"How’s my son?" the mother asked eagerly.
"There’s been some developments on your son’s status... He’s..." I shifted in my shoes and tried to look her in the eye. "Well Ma’am, your son didn’t male it. We believe he’s been deceased for some time now but we aren’t really sure why or how."
"What... No. No!" she shouted in my face and turn off.
The man approached me calmly. "That’s my boy you’re talking about."
"I’m sorry for your loss sir."
"What do you know about what was on him? Why did he look like that? What happened to him?" said the man as he wobbled a bit.
"We aren’t completely sure sir, but we are running several tests to determine what happened and why. We’ll inform you as soon as we learn more."
"Fine." He mumbled as he walked away.
Doctor Kim and mom salvaged as many organs of Patient Zero as they could but most of them were covered in spores. They kept the heart pumping so the spores could enter the patient’s bloodstream. It was almost like they had a mind of their own but that’s not possible, is it? My mom studied the spores closely and they really knew how to survive. She found that the toxins were their fuel, they feed the body with the noxious chemicals that they release as to preserve the host so that they can burst and spread even more, consuming the host. The staff had to keep Patient Zero contained or risk an outbreak worse than the chemicals that we ourselves flooded our planet with.
My mother told me she was so busy trying to save lives she never really noticed what was really killing her patients. Their illnesses only got worse with each visit. She was so focused on finding an illness listed in her medical books, something that they’ve already seen and cured. They never noticed what was building behind the scenes. The floodgates burst open and many drowned. Not even the medical staff were safe. It seemed as the help list got shorter and shorter with each passing month, that quickly turned into weeks and then dissolved into days that passed in a blink of an eye. She missed her friends and how they used to laugh on their lunch breaks. The laughter quickly dissolved into silent reminders of the darkness looming around us.
By the time they quarantined the boy, it was too late. The new strand of spores were already released into the air and filtered through the entire hospital by their vents and air conditioning. They didn’t know if the spores had the ability to go airborne so quickly. No one even noticed the microscopic burst the spores let off. We learned quickly how lost we really were when it came to curing this infection... Let alone understanding it in the slightest.