Influenza

Mary Ellen was just a little over twelve years old when she drew her final breath.

Even before the nurse had proclaimed her dead, a suffocating atmosphere hung amidst the hospital room, smothering the people trapped within. The only sound that could be heard was a continual ringing emanating from the electrocardiogram. No one spoke; no one wept. Not the doctor, not the father, not even the mother. The disturbing manner of it all had rendered their vocal chords ineffective.

For the corpse that laid in front of them was not one of a young girl but that of a old woman. Her hair, grayed but a month ago, was now sprawled out against her pillow, forming a monochromatic halo. Her pasty skin had warped under the immense force of time; each wrinkle forming a fragment of the story she maintained within. Beyond inquiry, she truly seemed like an individual who had intimately experienced life.

But she hadn’t. She was barely twelve, after all.

The silence was shattered by shrill screaming from Mrs. Carson.

“What happened to my baby? What happened to Mary Ellen?”

The shock of hearing another being speak stunned the room out of their silence.

Although the doctor attempted to address the situation articulately, his voice could not help but quaver a bit in despair and guilt. “Your daughter simply had the flu. It is nothing to ‒”

The father could no longer hold his tongue.“The flu? That’s a bald-faced lie!  Plenty of people have had the flu before and this didn’t happened to them!”

“Not this kind of flu.” The nurse solemnly muttered.

“What do you mean ‘this kind’?”

The doctor shot the nurse a particularly nasty look, mumbling under his breath about loose-lipped practitioners.

“The influenza virus has adapted symptoms that have eluded even the most esteemed scientists. Nonetheless, the government assures us that those scientist are diligently working towards a cure. The hospital can and will reserve the right to keep the body for observation. Furthermore, I am not at liberty to disclose the particular circumstances of your daughter’s death, so I ask for you to cease any further questioning.” Despite his best efforts, the doctor’s polite and professional demeanor seemed to crumble underneath their inquiries.

“Like hell we will! I don’t think you understand doctor,” Mr. Carson added in sarcastic emphasis. “But this isn’t your little science experiment. This is our lives you are dealing with. I don’t care about what rights your hospital has or doesn’t have. As a father, I can and will reserve the right to know what happened to my little girl. And if all I have to go through is some scrawny kid abusing his authority,” Mr. Carson sized up to the doctor, his eyes posing a silent challenge. “I will.”

The doctor seemed outwardly unfazed. “Have you just threatened me, Mr. Carson?”

“And what if I have?”

The doctor let out a weary sigh before reaching for the briefcase at the foot of the bed.

“These are the TH-7 files; the files for the variation of influenza your daughter had.”

He looked into the doctor’s steely eyes suspiciously, an unspoken question surging through his veins. Why the sudden change in heart? He began to open his mouth to request further answers, but the doctor had heard every silent word he left unspoken.

“Do you want to see these documents or not, Mr. Carson?”

The man didn’t seem to know himself anymore.

Grabbing the manilla folder with trembling fingers, the parents hastily scanned the documents within.

Mrs. Carson’s voice trembled in disbelief. “This…is impossible, right? This is chemically impossible!”

“You’ve seen the evidence with your own eyes, yet you will still deny the truth?” The masterful facade the doctor had put on earlier has completely faded away. Now the only thing that was put upfront what exhaustion

Mr. Carson’s eyes involuntarily flickered to where his daughter slept in eternal slumber.

“Is my daughter the only one?”

“Unfortunately, no. In the past years, there has been several cases of this variation internationally. To keep from global hysteria, it has been…swept under the rug, in a manner of speaking.”

“But surely some people have taken notice,” Mr. Carson interjected. “The symptoms are so distinct, it’s impossible to hide this fact from the entire world, isn’t it?”

The doctor averted his eyes, and for fleeting second, Mr. Carson could have sworn he saw guilt flare up in them.

“Indeed, you are correct, Mr. Carson. Although at first only select individuals were chosen to sustain this secret, certain people have unearthed this burden of theirs. Whether they set out to discover this or stumbled upon it in an unfortunate accident, they have figured out the hard way that curiosity eradicated the cat.”

It felt as if a serpent had slithered up Mr. Carson’s back and was now spiraled around his trachea, effectively cutting off his air supply. Terror caused his throat to become parched and he struggled to find his words.

“What do you mean?”

The doctor now refused to meet his gaze altogether. Instead, he turned to locked eyes with his nurse.

“Nurse Johnson, please inform the special operation agents that Mr. and Mrs. Carson have been snooping through our filing cabinet and have uncovered the TH-7 files. They will need to be eradicated posthaste.”

The nurse kept her poise as she vocalized her affirmative and hastily scurried towards the door.

Although Mrs. Carson still remained thoroughly baffled throughout the entirety of this affair, Mr. Carson had of relative comprehension of what was transpiring here and  understood that no amount of brawns would allow for him  to escape from here with his life intact.

Kneeling down beside her bed, Mr. Carson gently seized Mary Ellen’s now shrivelled hand. Although he had never been an exceptionally religious man, at the present moment he couldn’t help but close his eyes in prayer.

Lowering his voice Mr. Carson whispered soothingly to Mary Ellen.

“I’ll see you soon, my little girl.”

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