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Nocebo Effect

By Kaitlyn Bier All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Scifi

Blurb

“Send them in,” he says. He scan the people as they walk in, studying the diversity amongst them. He watches as two men walk in wearing suits. One carries a briefcase, and the other one glances frantically around the room. A woman enters behind them. Her scrubs indicate that she might be in a medical field. Maybe a nurse or a veterinarian. A challenge, he thinks to himself. Next comes in a mother, with a child clinging to her hand. He smiles. An easy target. Even easier when the boy is already coughing when he enters. Three other people enter the room. They look to be average middle class people. They can make good targets. The last one to enter sparks delight in the man’s eyes. A young man, maybe in his early twenties. Dark circles rest underneath his eyes, and he stifles a yawn as he walks in. When he blinks, it’s long, and his eyelids stay closed longer than normal. His lips curl. Perfect. He’s the main target. He thinks.

Group A

“Group A is ready, sir. Should I bring them in?” A young man asks behind the plastic shield that connects to his biohazard suit.

Another man dresses in the same suit, but with the headpiece hanging on his side. He glances around the dreary, blank room. The walls and floors are the same concrete gray. The only light coming in is from the small windows towards the ceiling. A small railed platform separates them from the group. It doesn’t portray a government building like he intended to, but it will have to do.

He fixes his thick, black glasses on his face and secures his headpiece on his head.

“Send them in,” he says.

He scan the people as they walk in, studying the diversity amongst them. He watches as two men walk in wearing suits. One carries a briefcase, and the other one glances frantically around the room. A woman enters behind them. Her scrubs indicate that she might be in a medical field. Maybe a nurse or a veterinarian. A challenge, he thinks to himself.

Next comes in a mother, with a child clinging to her hand. He smiles. An easy target. Even easier when the boy is already coughing when he enters. Three other people enter the room. They look to be average middle class people. They can make good targets.

The last one to enter sparks delight in the man’s eyes. A young man, maybe in his early twenties. Dark circles rest underneath his eyes, and he stifles a yawn as he walks in. When he blinks, it’s long, and his eyelids stay closed longer than normal.

His lips curl. Perfect. He’s the main target. He thinks.

“Can we hurry up, whatever this is? We have a meeting in twenty minutes,” the man with the briefcase says.

“Yeah, what is this even?” The tired young man asks.

Whispers echo throughout the group. The young man in the hazmat suits quickly silences them.

“Thank you, my assistant.” He gives another quick once over at the group. “I am Dr. Hisnosif. We called you all in here to take a quick assessment.”

“Okay, is this going to take long? We need to go.” The other man in the suit turns to leave, but is quickly stopped the doctor’s assistant.

“If this is just an ’assessment’ then why are you guys in hazmat suits?”

“It’s just a precaution.”

“A precaution for what?” The woman in scrubs asks.

“Well, of you must know, there’s a small bug that we are looking for, and we are to stay as sanitary as possible.”

The assistant hands Dr. Hisnosif a clip board.

“We are going to list off some symptoms. If you have experienced any of these in the last 72 hours, please raise your hand.”

He watches the group’s confused, and nervous faces. A small grin curls in the corner of his mouth as he engines to read off the list.

“Dry throat. Typically in the morning.”

A few hands shyly raise in the air. With a preformed look of concern, he makes note of it on his clipboard.

“Restlessness?” The teenage boy raises his hand, along with the woman in scrubs, and two other people.

He looks up briefly, and spots a man with a small patch of red trickling from his nostril. He inhales, and sucks the blood back up.

“Nosebleeds?” The doctor says.

The man with a bloody nose raises his hand, and looks around to see if anyone else’s hand is raised. The little boy with a cold raises his hand as well. The mother of the child forces his hand down.

“You don’t need to raise you’re hand, Jimmy.” She turns her gaze to Dr. Hisnosif. “He has chronic nose bleeds.”

His expression is stern when his eyes flutter to her. He doesn’t respond as he makes notes on his clipboard.

His eyes fix on the child again.

“Do you feel cold, even though it’s warm outside?” he asks Jimmy.

He nods as he coughs violently into his hands.

The doctor turns back to the mother. “What’s his temperature?”

“It was 103 last night, but it has gone down a lot since then. It’s only a cold he picked up a couple days ago, he should be fine.”

“Ma’am I don’t think this is a routine cold.”

Dr. Hisnosif gets down from the platform and makes his way over to the little boy. He gets down to one knee, and touches the boy’s forehead. His complexion is grayish, with darker circles around his eyes. Snot dribbles from his nose. He uses his sleeve to wipe it away.

“There’s a small bug going around. I think you’re son might be infected,” he says.

“What kind of bug? Like the flu?” The woman in scrubs asks.

“I’m afraid it’s much worse. We’ve been tracking an odd strain of a virus. It’s highly contagious through the air, and if this little boy has it, I’m afraid all of you do.”

He watches as the faces of Group A turn from annoyed and curious, to confused and alarmed.

“So are you saying we have this disease?”

“Potentially yes. It starts out subtle, with symptoms of a cold or flu. It will soon escalate into spontaneous seizures, and what seem like symptoms of a heart attack. We’ve found that the disease shuts down parts of the brain, causing organs to fail or operate strangely.”

“Wait, so you’re saying we can die from this?” The man with the brief case pushes his way towards the doctor.

“Theoretically yes, you all can.”

“Where did this virus come from?” He is sure that the woman in scrubs is a nurse from the questions she asks.

“It seems that it might be a mutated strain of the Zika Virus.”

“Bullshit! I’m as fit as a horse! Some over the counter cold and flu and I’ll be just fine!” A man yells from the crowd.

“I wish it’s that easy, sir. But since this strain has been recently discovered, there is yet to be any remedies for it.” He looks back to the little boy. “By the way he looks he will enter the final stage within a day, and it’s not long after that he will die.”

The group erupts in angered, or distressed shouts. It sounds as if a riot is about to start. He can see tears form in the little boy’s eyes. His lips move, asking his mother if he’s going to die. The mother kneels down to reassure her son.

Across the room, he sees the tired boy pace back and forth. His hands rest on the top of his head. The stress shows in his face, and radiates to his movements.

Dr. Hisnosif can’t help but smile to himself. This is exactly what he wanted.

A man silences the crowd, immediately drawing attention from everyone in the room, including the doctor.

“This is all a load! There’s no mutant virus. That boy just has a cold! Now, me and my friend here have a meeting we are late for. I say we ignore this crazy old man and get back to our lives!”

Soft murmurs come form the crowd before they all turn and leave. Panic wells up in the doctor’s throat. Things are not going according to plan.

“I’m from the Center for Disease Control,” he says.

The man with the briefcase is halfway out of the door when he stops. He turns back.

“You’re with the government?”

Dr. Hisnosif nods.

"Even more why we shouldn't trust what you say. The government is always lying to us."

"The government doesn't fool around when it comes to public health. If you go out there you are putting millions of lives in danger."

Without another word, the man with the briefcase walks out. Some follow him without caution. Others hesitate, and give the doctor a once over. She sighs, then walks out with everyone else. Tears still fall from the boy's eyes as she pulls him away.

The tired young man is the last of the bunch to walk out. It's the doctor's last hope. He rushes over and grabs the man's arm before he leaves.

"You're starting to show signs of the virus as well. Y0u need to get to Seattle. They're the only hospital working on a cure for this virus."

"I can't do that," the man says. "I go to college, and I don't have a job. I don't have the money to fly halfway across the country for that."

The doctor lets out a deep sigh. "I wish I could help you, but the CDC isn't going to pay for it. They ordered me to only quarantine the infected."

Disappointed, the man walks away. The doctor lets the door shut as he removes the bio-hazard suit. His assistant behind him already has his headpiece off.

"That could have gone better, sir," the assistant says.

"Yes, but hopefully I've said enough to impact their minds."

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