FYI: this was in reaction to a BBC story about this happening Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
15 miles from Irkutsk, Siberia a small rodent took advantage of the thawing permafrost to dig her burrow deeper into the ground. This Chinese striped hamster was only one pregnant female from the hundreds of thousands of this small creature that had proliferated because of the warming temperatures. She was burrowing deeper in a search for the safety of frozen ground that would deter predators from digging and finding her nest.
Encountering a broad flat bone, she decided to chew her way through rather than dig around it. Her sharp front teeth made the work quick and easy, but along the way, she inadvertently swallowed some of the dried marrow from the center of the old bone. In the warmth and moisture of her stomach, long dormant spores came alive.
The next day was overcast and windy. The small hamster emerged from her burrow and search of seeds and edible greenery. She could feel her belly starting to swell with the new litter of babies so she was very careful as she checked the sky and her surroundings on the ground for predators. The wind was her undoing as it masked the sound of a diving hawk’s wings cutting through the air.
She died quickly from the shock as the hawk’s talons pierced her and broke her back.
Back at the nest, the hawk fed the hamster to its three chicks. Had the spores been able to be grateful, they would have appreciated this ability to triple their numbers. But being insensitive to such details, they simply started multiplying within each of the chicks.
Four days later, the chicks died and the female hawk cleaned them out of the nest, dropping them to the ground under the tree. A cat from the nearby farm found the newly dead chicks, considered them a delicacy and ate them immediately. That cat died four days later.
Two days after the death of the old barn cat, the youngest daughter of the farmer found her favorite kitten lying sick in a pile of old grain sacks in a corner of the barn. She knelt down beside the cat, stroked its head in an attempt to make it feel better. All the cat could do in return was to lick her hand. That turned out to be enough.
Three days after the cat died, the young girl told her mother she felt sick to her stomach. The young girl’s pallor convinced the woman that she was telling the truth, and she left her stay home from school that day. But by the next morning, when her daughter wasn’t feeling better, in fact, she was feeling worse and was hallucinating, the woman wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the old farm truck.
The elderly country doctor carefully examined the young girl. He told the mother he didn’t know what was wrong with her daughter, but that he would phone ahead to the hospital and arrange for some tests. He suggested that perhaps it was food poisoning, and he only shrugged his shoulders when the young mother explained that her daughter was the only one who was sick in their family.
The doctors at the hospital were particularly busy that day due to several car accidents after an ice storm had swept through the city. A young girl with an upset stomach simply wasn’t high on their triage list. In fact, after the young girl had thrown up, a doctor remarked that perhaps getting something out of her stomach would perhaps solve the problem.
An orderly came and cleaned up the floor, but as she was rising the young girl coughed and hacked directly onto her shoulder and neck.
A day later, the young girl was dead. The orderly was throwing up in her own bathroom in her apartment, and several of the doctors and nursing staff were feeling nauseous.
In this way, person by person in an ever spreading pyramid of infection the spores multiplied to suck the life out of their hosts.
Three days later, the first doctor died and the tests came back from the laboratory. But by this time, the spores were established in the city population and had spread across the country. And when the world heard the word “anthrax”, it seemed as if it shuddered on its axis. Vaccine stocks were in short supply, but the pharmaceutical companies quickly ramped up production. Politicians assured their constituents the vaccine would quickly control this bacterial problem.
What they didn’t know was that this variant would not be stopped by a vaccine because it constantly morphed to its new hosts and worked around whatever protection they had.
With the old variants of anthrax, the risk of death was relatively low for all forms except the intestinal which killed 25% of its victims. But this new form was particularly deadly. Instead of leaving 75% alive without treatment, it left 25% to survive. It also multiplied and spread faster than any known bacterial problem because it wasn’t discriminating about its host. It infected anything with warm blood.
By the time the pharmaceutical companies developed and tested a vaccine that would work with this bacteria, it had killed upwards of 50% of the world’s population. Those countries without adequate health care or the money to afford the expensive vaccines were left to their own devices by the multinational corporations and their populations plummeted.
Sgt. John Christie watched the talking heads on the television news as they explained how global warming had released this bacteria from the Siberian tundra where it had laid dormant for centuries and how modern transportation and communication systems had brought it to the United States.
He shook his head and wondered who in hell was responsible for not stopping this plague before it got started. Probably the same nutcase politicians who decided global warming and climate change was fake, he thought. He shook his head at the thought of all those politicians.
The television picture then changed to grocery stores where people were filling baskets with every variety of food or canned good imaginable. The camera drone showed empty shelves where cases of water bottles used to be. He watched as several people got so impatient with the long lineups they skipped paying entirely and pushed their carts straight outside.
The example set by those few people create a stampede of people leaving the store as fast as possible. A lone security guard pulled his gun on a young woman pushing a cart full of diapers. He never saw the punch the husband threw but hit the ground unconscious. The news video showed the young man picking up the revolver, tucking it into his waistband, and walking out behind his wife.
Christie shook his head. When the going gets tough, everybody’s going to get tougher he thought. His phone chirped. He sighed and stood. Glanced at the phone to see the expected recall message. He clicked an acknowledgment and quickly walked to the bedroom, stripped off his socks and replaced them with a clean pair of expensive real wool socks. He slipped his feet back into his steel toed shoes, took his gun out of the safe, put it in its holster, slipped both arms into the holster straps pulling the weapon into place. He then buckled the straps that would hold the gun underneath his jacket but over his protective armor.
Three eighteen-hour shifts later, Christie developed a slight cough. It was towards the end of the third shift and he didn’t think anything of it. But by the next morning, the slight cough had turned into a hacking cough and Christie realized that he’d been infected. He considered himself lucky because he got the lung variation and not the more serious stomach infection.
He picked up his phone, speed-dialed the precinct and left a simple message, “Christie. Got it.”
Christie went to his bathroom, leaned on the sink and looked at himself in the mirror. A hacking cough shook him and after it was finished, he stood and gasped for breath. He knew it would only get worse, and he confessed to himself that he was indeed scared. A thought flickered across his mind that it was okay to die with your buddies surrounding you in a firefight, but dying alone in an apartment by yourself was no way to go. There would be nobody to find him or mourn him, and who the hell would give a damn if I die, he thought.
He crawled into bed, pulled the covers up, but then hesitated as a thought that might save his life crystallized in his mind. He stood up, went to the cupboard and rummaged around at the back of the top shelf. His last wife had left her CPAP machine in a box and he simply stored it, waiting for her to discover its absence and ask for it. She never had.
He knew the CPAP machine would force air into his lungs, and while it was normally used to prevent snoring, he’d use it to ensure his body got the oxygen it needed. It took him a few minutes to assemble the machine and adjust the head straps so the nose piece would fit in the straps would not cut into his cheeks and ears. He laid back down, reached over and tapped the start button. The resulting air being pushed into his lungs surprised him and he fought the feeling for the first 30 seconds. Consciously relaxing, he allowed the machine to work and push air deep into his lungs. He knew the only way he was going to get through this at his age, was to use this machine.
Christie spent the next 48 hours hooked up to the machine and trying desperately to sleep. The first time he rolled over, he almost strangled himself on the hoses before waking and getting everything untangled. He remembered then that all three of his wives said he tossed and turned all night, every night, of their marriage. He shook his head slowly wondering how they’d put up with him at all. He took one of the pillows on the bed, put it behind himself and laid on his side facing the machine. He hoped the pillow would stop him from rolling.
He slept fitfully, on and off, waking up to hack and cough. He felt as if his lungs are going to come up and out of his mouth. The burning sensation was intense, and he understood why some people just wanted to die when this happened. There were times he just wanted to rip the machine from his face as he coughed over and over again. Through it all, CPAP machine continued to inflate his lungs and keep him alive.
The first morning, Christie woke himself up by coughing and decided he had to use the toilet. He carefully disengaged himself from the machine, tried to stand but the room started spinning around him and he collapsed back onto the bed. It was all he could do to get the CPAP machine hooked up properly again. He laid there for a few seconds, floating in and out of consciousness, trying to decide if he could make the bathroom and realized that wasn’t going to happen. He passed out.
Christie lay unconscious and unmoving for the next 48 hours while his body and the disease fought.
Forty-eight hours later, he woke in a badly-soiled bed, his bedroom reeked of urine and feces, He managed to get a shaking hand over to the CPAP machine’s off-button, slap it and the whirring noise and air pressure in his head disappeared. He ripped the face mask off, took a deep breath, and felt a deep sense of satisfaction that he was still alive. That satisfaction disappeared as he inhaled the stench of his room.
“Jesus!” He said aloud.
He staggered out of bed, wobbled to his bathroom. His legs weren’t fully under his control. He stared at three days worth of beard, sunken eyes, and the haunted look of a survivor. Leaning against the wall, he reached into the shower and turned on the water. The water didn’t start right away, and he wondered whether there would be any water pressure left or whether the city infrastructure still survived. His question was answered as the water flow started and slowly gained in pressure and temperature. Supporting himself with the handrail that was inside the tub, he stood in the steaming water allowing it to wash away the detritus of the last three days.
10 minutes later, feeling as if he might become human again, Christie staggered back out of the shower to face himself in the mirror. He leaned against the sink and decided he didn’t have the strength to control a razor. I probably slit my throat he thought and watched a rueful grin appear in the mirror facing him.
Turning to the bedroom, he managed a slow but steady walk without staggering as he moved to the cupboard to get clean clothes. A few minutes of fumbling buttons and several attempts to thread a belt through the loops of his pants, he raised one foot off the ground to put on a sock and fell, thumping, to the floor. He took a deep breath, didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but decided the best option was to lay there and put his socks on before trying to stand up.
Note to self, he thought. Sit on a chair while putting on shoes.
With his socks on, Christie struggled to his feet. Once again, the stench of the room made him gag. Walking with one hand on the wall for support, he got to his bedroom window and opened it as wide as possible. He returned two steps to the bed and pulled off the sheets, rolled them up into two tight balls. Set them on the floor next to the door. He looked at the mattress, and thought to himself, new mattress time.
He took the sheets with him as he left the apartment, and halfway to the stairs he opened the garbage chute and shoved them down.
Christie opened the door at the bottom of the stairs and walked into the apartment lobby. The lobby was silent and empty.
He pushed open the large glass security door and walked out onto the New York City street.
There were no honking cars, no crowds of busy pedestrians, no rumbling trains, there were only a few scattered people walking unsteadily along the concrete sidewalks. He took a deep breath, celebrated that he was still alive, and slowly but surely walked to the precinct building four blocks away.
That was really the beginning.