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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Outbreak (04/07/11)

TITLE: A Sickness at the Zoo
By Lori Jones


The outbreak happened on a dank autumn weekday at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. A slow zoo day as far as visitor traffic, but I was busier than I had been in weeks. After a rash of bird deaths, I spent the morning running blood tests on some lethargic birds. I wanted to solve the issue on my own before the media heard about it, bringing poor publicity to a hard-working zoo staff.

The lab’s door rushed open. My breathless assistant exploded into an animated story decimating the room’s silence, his long brown bangs flopping across his eyes. “So, I was cleaning inside the parrot cage and guess who was outside not thinking anyone was watching? The mayor- the MAYOR with a young, very hot, very blonde woman. It might’ve been his aide – the one everyone was talking about a year ago. Anyway, before he saw me, he touched her hair, kissed her cheek, and hugged her and I GOT THE PICTURE!” He flashed his iPhone, extending his arm toward my face in triumph. The black and white peace sign phone case framed a damaging picture of the embracing couple.

“Delete it, Zach – you don’t know the story.” I advised, returning my attention to my patient.

My excited assistant chuckled to himself and pushed his bangs away from his face. “No way, Marvin, a picture’s worth a thousand words… or a thousand bucks, baby! I got student loans to pay off, man!” His thumbs flew across his phone’s keyboard while he guided the lab door open with his backside, exiting the room.

Hours later, the picture hit a gossip website, the local news, and eventually the national news, spreading like contaminated waters from a stream into a roaring river. The ill-effects of the image were far reaching, poisoning the lives of two people and everyone around them. Since impropriety had been rumored a year ago between the mayor and his aide, his wife assumed the worst and moved out of their home. The media exposed every story and picture that it could find on the young blonde aide.

The mayor eventually held a news conference stating that nothing inappropriate had occurred and he was simply comforting his aide, his friend in her time of need. It was learned months later that the aide had been diagnosed that day with breast cancer and the mayor followed her to the zoo to console her and promised to keep her secret safe.

But the destruction had been done and the public’s judgment made. The divorced mayor finished his term quietly but was not re-elected. He was branded with a reputation solidified in the minds of those willing to believe scintillating rumor over truth - unvaccinated against the disease of gossip.

I wish that I could create an antidote against gossip as I had that day for my birds’ illness. It would have the ability to stop the spread of hurtful words and the lies that cause permanent damage. If only, I thought, good news could spread as ferociously as a pandemic. I laughed to myself at the thought of Moses posting a picture on the Internet of the burning bush or Mary Magdalene greeting Peter outside of Jesus’ tomb hoisting her iPhone photo in triumph toward his face. However, Doubting Thomases would still exist since our nature is to believe the negative instead of the positive.

The birds fluttered and sang in excitement as I slipped their breakfast into their cage. At least I could keep them chirping happily, I thought.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Helen Curtis04/14/11
Very well written. You had my attention the whole way through. It's sad that we do tend to both believe the worst in people rather than wait to hear the truth, and that we pounce on the gossip so eagerly. A really great entry, hope you go well!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 04/14/11
How true that an outbreak of gossip can do as much damage as a deadly virus. Excellent message without coming across as preachy.
diana kay04/20/11
interesting the parallel story of the bird virus and the gossip i would have liked them to be a little more intertwined somehow.or one or the other. good writing though
Jan Ackerson 01/25/12
Lori, I'm going to feature this as the Front Page Showcase article on this site for the week of February 13. Look for it on the FaithWriters home page--and congratulations!