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A Little Teaser

Daisy hops around the office, stopping for the occasional thump. Joe Wilcox works on his first fiction book, which will have an unusual publishing schedule, and he intends to crowdsource the storyline from the fifth chapter onward.

He also plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign later in May. Raw teaser excerpt:

Celeste Warren blinks disbelievingly. “I have what?” she asks the emergency room doctor. “That’s impossible”.

Dr. Philip West scratches out Acquired in Warren’s chart such that it now reads “Advanced Immunodeficiency Syndrome”. She is the 13th case in fourteen days. He doesn’t know, nor does he care, which of his colleagues coined the change. A new virulent form of HIV threatens to rampage across London’s population. The sick share nothing identifiable in common, other than the suddenness of their declines.

West glances again at Warren’s chart. Coincidentally, she had an annual checkup the previous week. Her medical records describe normal blood work and an athletic 27 year-old female surprisingly fit. Now her T Cell count is too low to reliably measure and the effects of a common cold prove life-threatening.

The physician raises his head to answer and looks into eyes he expects to never see again. The other victims—all comatose—are strange, ghastly creatures with sunken skin and grey pallor. How they continue to live, West can’t imagine. The pattern is consistent: Rapid onset of AIDs over the course of a single day—in one case two—ending in lingering near death.

Time matters. Warren’s fate is set. But her case history might save someone else. Surely the unlucky 13 share some common cause. West picks up the phone and asks that the hospital stenographer come to the room.

Earlier, on suspicion of Warren’s illness, he had the woman moved to a private room—even before drawing blood or fully processing her admission. No one knows how the virulent virus spreads. But the larger concern is privacy. He didn’t want something heard behind a curtain to set off a panic. West doubts the disease can be contained, but perhaps information about it could be kept secret. For awhile longer. Until more is known and public health policy can be established.

Celeste Warren hacks violently, pulling the physician from morbid thoughts. Just during the half-hour examination, the woman’s skin tone retreated from plush pink to ruddy red, and he can almost visibly see color fade by the second. He picks up the phone once more and barks: “Where’s the stenographer? I need him now!”

Half-hunched, leaning forward from the examination table, the woman trembles in fear and from chill. Born of English and French parents, now divorced, she owns flats in both London and Paris. “I know it’s an extravagance” is her catch-phrase defense. “It’s my guilty pleasure”, she tells friends. But Warren doesn’t feel sorry at all for maintaining residences in two of the world’s most expensive housing markets. She pretends to be, because appearances matter.

Seventeen minutes later, Warren collapses and can’t be revived. West instructs that she be moved to the isolation ward with the other “ghastlies”, as hospital orderlies call them. As an attendant wheels the newest victim into the room, he turns to West: “They scare the shit out of me”.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Downes

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