The local doctor turned bewildered eyes to the white-suited specialist beside him. Dr. Ruscly had to slow his hyper pace so as not to scurry too far ahead of the calm, unruffled professional. “I’m telling you, sir, it’s an epidemic. The whole town seems to be contracting it! And I’m afraid that if we don’t find an antidote soon, it will spread to neighboring towns as well.”
The man took a breath, ran a hand over his sleep-deprived face and continued, “The scariest thing, Dr. Peterson, is that those who are infected seem nearly determined to pass on the disease. It’s one of the strangest cases I’ve seen.”
Dr. Peterson finally spoke, asking the obvious question. “And the symptoms are?”
Ruscly scratched the side of his head, his hand running back and forth so fast it could have had its own motor. “Well, sir, I told you it’s not an ordinary case.” He set his hands forward, as if squaring off a box. “It’s like this. It usually starts with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. The patient begins to feel unworthy and utterly void of any goodness within. They begin to dwell on a host of supposed wrongs that they have committed and are practically overcome with regret. They became emotional. This thing has been known to break the hardest men down into a torrent of sobs.”
Dr. Peterson raised his eyebrows. “And then? I assume the condition worsens?”
“Then comes the strangest stage. After feeling so low that they lose the strength to stand, generally dropping to the ground on their knees, they become suddenly giddy.”
Peterson’s formerly forward gaze locked onto his companion. “Giddy, Dr. Ruscly?”
“Yes, sir. Tests have revealed that the source of this giddiness emanates from a kind of unknown adrenaline in the heart.”
“What accompanies the giddiness?”
“With it comes an uncharacteristic naivety. Victims begin, not unlike children, to believe in ... well, things that they can’t really see.” Ruscly rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the title floor in the hallway as they walked. “Sadly, whenever children contract this virus, they tend to never outgrow their belief in the unseen.”
“Have you tried injecting a dose of persecution or hard times? That may counter the advance of the virus.”
Ruscly shook his head. “No good. This thing is extremely potent. Persecution and hard times may curb it for a short time, but eventually they only serve to immunize the virus against tougher injections. It grows stronger than ever.”
Dr. Peterson slowed to a halt and turned to the local doctor, his eyes displaying the gravity of the situation. “I’m afraid all your efforts will be futile, Doctor. I know this case well … there is no antidote. No cure. I’ve seen cases where a patient thought they had been infected, but upon their recovery we learned that they had never actually been hit. Their experience didn’t come close to the real thing.”
Stumbling backward, Dr. Ruscly braced himself against a nearby doorframe, his face absorbed with shock. His lungs worked overtime, inhaling and exhaling deeply. “There’s ... there’s no cure? Then it ... it can’t be stopped? But can’t we quarantine it? Keep it from spreading?”
“People have tried, but it’s no use. This is strong enough to reach beyond the parameters of quarantine. Beyond those who try to confine it. In fact, sometimes it’s those who resist it the most who contract it the hardest. Believe me, Ruscly, I’ve had a lot of experience in this area.”
“Sir, I don’t see how you haven’t caught it yet yourself! You must have discovered some effective preventive measures.”
A grin began to crawl across Peterson’s face. “I have tried a lot of those. Even an operation that produces a kind of shield around the heart.”
“Which is where the virus originates! Brilliant, Doctor!”
“But there’s only one problem.”
“Yes?” Ruscly studied Peterson and the strange smile enveloping his face. Something was oddly familiar about that grin ...
“In some cases, the shield is prone to cracking, leaving the heart more vulnerable than ever.”
Ruscly stared. That smile – it looked like the outcome of ... giddy joy.
Peterson rested a hand on the doctor’s shoulder. “My friend, once you get a case of Jesus Christ, you’ll never be the same again.”
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This is outstanding! I knew where you were going but was still quite eager to take the ride with you. It's a shame you didn't get it in in time. Go right now and hand in your handout!Either that or we'll have to buy you an alarm clock!