The thick crunch of the melting snow and the slowly warming air were the only signs that it was spring in the small town in Russia. The northern tundra wasn’t quite as cold as it used to be. The ground was soft and spongy from the melt and the ground was ready to be plowed down for the new strip mall. It would be glorious 15 stores, a MacDonald’s, and a gas station. All that needed to be done was the ground ripped open and construction could start. Boris put the heaving machine in drive and began digging dirt out only to hit a thin brittle crunch after 15 minutes of work. The barrier thin and exposed after what must have been centuries was made of wood and had a thick black stripe of chipped paint across the door. Whatever…it was a wooden door and Boris hopped out of his machine and started towards the anciet door. The handle broke off in his hand and he pushed his way in. The air was old and stale far more than stale it was musty thick. There in the middle of the room on a couch lay a corpse. Her skin was black in places from decomposing Boris supposed and otherwise a sheeny gloss hung over her. That didn’t matter the large golden cross filled with gems was all that mattered it sucked the eyes into its golden glow. Boris thought for a minute…. this was old really old, from the days of the Kievan Rus with the old church Slavonic inscriptions and that meant the work would stop, no food for his aged mother, no rent for them, and another year of a leaky roof. No it was wrong but would the woman that was all but black dust in places really object? Boris walked forward and grabbed the cross and with it sunk his hands into the corpse. The dust rose into the air and the corpse disintegrated before him. For a split second Boris thought the corpse had smiled before it disintegrated but no and that was that. Then Boris turned and ran. He slammed the door to the house shut and went and got the foreman. As predicted the work stopped and the snow fell. A week later Boris put his mother in a French care facility. The care staff noted she had a cough and a fever. They thought nothing of it and went home to their families.
Boris then went on a plane to go and see New York City a wealthy man. The airports were stuffed full of people and he saw all the tourist attractions in New York City including a baseball game. Nobody cared about a mild cough and fever. Nobody. After all a cough and a fever are so common. The black dust was not on Boris’ mind after all corpses do rot. Boris began to think he should go to the doctor, an urgent care on a Saturday, about the pesky cough. So he did in New York City and was duly told he had a virus and to drink fluids and rest. So that is what Boris did in the beautiful hotel in the heart of New York City. He rested two days after he went to the doctor and then he noticed black spots on his skin under his armpits. They were growing and there were other places too but Boris by that time was too sick to get out of bed. Within 12 hours Boris was dead but not before with his fever he had a delusional hallucination of the woman with the cross having burning red eyes and laughing. She hung above the bed with her hands outstretched luridly into claws. She rent the air and reached through the darkness for Boris and the bright golden cross gleamed the last thing Boris saw. The cleaning employees outside his room heard the laughter too but to their ears it was just Boris and so they skipped his room that day. No guests liked being disturbed and they were short because a couple people had called out with a cough and fever. Meanwhile people began filtering into doctor offices in the intervening week or so. The doctor’s office was packed with people with cough and fever. “Go home and rest” and “Fluids” “a virus” was the first thing people were told. In all it took 10 minutes to tell people that as they were seen.
Lauren however was a persistent hypochondriac who drove her doctor crazy with her constant complaints and endless imaginings about illnesses that never really infected anyone in the heart of the small town, two hours from New York City, where she lived. She had spent a weekend with her brother seeing the statue of liberty in New York City. Her doctor was a busy man who wanted to go home at five and not hear from another patient for at least 8 hours. So as he listened to her long list of complaints he smiled and nodded and signaled to the nurse to bring him his old fashioned prescription pad. “Ok Lauren, I will give you 10 days of amoxicillin and you should rest and drink fluids….” “Thank you doctor” Lauren gushed as she walked out the door prescription in hand. “Oh doctor you know she’s probably not even sick with anything but a common cold and what is probably a few blackheads” the older nurse grumbled after Lauren had left. “Well that’s it” the doctor said as he put the file on the desk. That was the last patient and had it not been the last normal day well it would have been quite unremarkable. However, the news soon broke that a terrible disease was effecting thousands and sooner rather than later millions. However, to be honest it was the first week. There was other news, but by the second week well the news was more about the terrible disease. Ironically it was known as a plague. Headlines screamed about a terrible disease and slowly and rather horribly as the bodies slowly but surely began to pile up in piles faster than even the greediest of funeral directors could bury the disease struck like lighting not the young or the old but the healthy. The sick and infirm oddly enough lived, the oddest thing…. but then they were on antibiotics….and it seemed to strike at Asian and African Americans….and wild theories flew but more so Asians for some odd reason leaving China and Japan decimated and virtual countries of the dead.
The flu? Strep? A new virus? An old virus? What was it? Well and so it was with 900 bodies in her morgue left unclaimed and 1500 being viewed and set to be claimed and God knows how many more coming in trucks and buses and army service vehicles.
Joanna Johnson decided it was a terrible week to work in a morgue but this was the very first week of the disease. Having failed to pass her Nursing Pharmacology and Nursing 120 classes Joanna had somehow ended up working in a morgue as a technician. Former classmates worked in hospitals and clinics. They sent pictures to Joanna and updates. Joanna sighed and surveyed her “patients” at least they didn’t complain. There were literally stacks of bodies piled sky high and mountains more on the way. The next bathroom break was an eternity away and the lab results would soon be back and everyone and their Grandma wanted to know what IT was. The small black buboes were almost missed but every single body had them and furthermore the incubation period appeared to be 2 weeks. The patient than had a cough for about a week and a mild fever, not sick enough to stay home so many places claimed”Come to work, go to school, don’t be a weak sister, don’t get fired for not being at work or school, or written up for not being there even with a doctor’s note and standing orders for rest and isolation.” So people went to work with plague, sent their children to school with plague, and thought it’s just a cough and a fever when what it was, was plague. It spread like wild fire and nobody knew that first couple weeks. It mimicked so many things. Then the second phase of the infection set in after people spent a week taking cough and cold meds and dutifully marching off to work and school and infecting everyone. The bacteria, NOT A VIRUS, appeared to be rather old to be honest and oddly familiar. The test results looked odd. The disease tested positive for nearly every test but one for PLAGUE but failed one singular test. It also failed to test as the same strain of plague otherwise identified as Y. Pestis KIM and the DNA was the same as the oldest DNA of plague but was hauntingly different in a few key places. (vetbact pestis, 2014)The plasmids for virulence were the same but with a few terrible additions. It tested the same as the KIM strain of plague without the terrible additions. The bacteria tested positive for nearly every antibiotic and had zero antibiotic resistance. A sickening thought entered Joanna’s head…. what if they were WRONG? What if Y. Pestis was not the old terror and plague that had decimated medieval earth’s human population? What if it were another strain of plague? (Devasting plague strains arose twice could return, 2014)
A nasty contagious, airborne bug, with a long lag time, a log phase that ended in the traditional plague death, and a 90% mortality untreated? The lab results made Joanna sick to her stomach and that in a hot biohazard suit was just not good. The questions that haunted her about plague and its rapid spread and how it made no sense that it killed so much so fast even in medieval times and the Plague of Justinian was suddenly horrifically answered. The science direct article she remembered reading about multiple strains of plague…. what if it were an entirely different bacterium in the same family? (Devasting plague strains arose twice could return, 2014) As were the descriptions that simply did not seem entirely like the plague Y.Pestis. Thankfully Joanna had insisted on a biohazard suit and didn’t have too many friends aside from nursing school. Her recently deceased coworkers had all laughed earlier this week when she insisted on wearing it. Well but then again her promotion was fresh……out of the 25 people who worked in the morgue 20 were dead or sick with the cough and fever for the first week then classic plague symptoms “headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes (called buboes)” (Plague, 2015) more so then the general population due to exposure to the bug. G- D-Glucose + Methyl Red + Citrate- Non Motile Rods Glucose Gas+ A slime envelope and rod shaped. There sitting in black and white were the results PMT1, PCD1, PCP1 and a new plasmid PCD2…. which added to the bacterial virulence in horrific ways. (The Plague, 2010) With the added twist that the bacteria had a double PGM locus it was dubbed KIM-2A. and named Y. Pathogeni, for its relationship to Y. Pestis and its virulence. The bacteria Y. Pestis was Methyl Red – distinctly so and it was well known that the Delta 32 mutation, 2 good copies of it, could prevent death from the plague. (vetbact pestis, 2014)
The plague, Y. Pestis, and Y. Pathogeni were 90% identical genetically it turned out but Y. Pathogeni spread so much faster in the air and didn’t die for 48 long hours on surfaces. It lived and those that touched it……well they didn’t. The bright side antibiotics were brilliantly effective……when the disease was caught in the coughing and fever phase. The deadly phase of the disease well nothing could help at that point. People stayed inside their homes and ate their own foods. The isolation helped but still a large amount of people died, 25% of the human population and even those that didn’t were left to survive experienced years of grief and a plentiful amount of food as the population had drastically dropped. Not more people due to the bacteria’s sensitivity to antibiotics and subsequent prophylactic administration to the population in mass. Whole cities left abandoned like ghosts, well- lit but slowly going dark. The power didn’t fail but the population walked like ghosts for years after the plague. What makes a plague? Is it one disease or two? A plague like no other that haunts from the grave and can still be awakened from a frozen sleep. A darker shade, a darker plague to haunt from the grave. After the deaths and quick containment by the government food prices, home prices, and general prices of goods dropped and unemployment went down during the recovery period. The excellent economy in part due to the surplus supplies and decreased demands and most of the bodies were burned by government decree so that the disease could be wiped out. Yet people hesitated to live in the homes of the so freshly dead and many swore the shadows walked at night.
Devasting plague strains arose twice could return. (2014). Retrieved from yahoo.com news : https://www.yahoo.com/news/devastating-plague-strains-arose-twice-could-return-235002598.html?ref=gs Plague. (2015, September 14). Retrieved from CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/plague/diagnosis/index.html The Plague. (2010, August 20). Retrieved from microbewiki kenyon edu: https://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/The_Plague vetbact pestis. (2014, 12 17). Retrieved from vetbact: http://www.vetbact.org/vetbact/index.php?artid=78&vbsearchstring=pestis