A generic lab-coated geek sits beyond a plexiglass divider, timer in hand and a frown on his rodenty face. I finish matching the red and white pattern on the blocks in front of me to the newest card and he stops the timer with surprising enthusiasm.
He needlessly adjusts his glasses for about the 16th time this session, then begins furiously scratching away on a notepad. "I'll have to tabulate your results, of course," he replies with the strange enthusiasm he seems to reserve only for scientifically studying things. In this particular instance, me. "You seem to have done alright. I hope..." He squints harder at his illegible writing as if it has all the answers. "I just hope we'll find something." I can see he's about to say more, but either thinks better of it or chickens out. Probably the latter. He seems to know what he's doing when it comes to science, but social interactions? Heaven help the man. He takes advantage of his fidgety energy to bound from his chair and out the door in seconds, leaving me alone in the UV lit room with only the IQ blocks for company.
Anyway, the world might end. I should probably start from the beginning.
It began quite innocently, really. You'd think the world would begin to go downhill with a big meteorite shower or a catastrophic volcanic eruption or at the very least some depressing rain, but that day, four days ago, was as sunny as you could ask for. Warm too, for October. I had taken the long route home that day, choosing to cut through the business section of town rather than the residential. I'd already stayed late at school for some algebra help, so by the time I neared home, the sun was starting to look a bit dimmer in the sky.
I was nearing the edge of town when I started registering odd scrabbling noises nearby. Stray animals aren't too uncommon of a sight around here, so I started looking around to find the source, figuring if it was a dog or something rather than a sewer rat and tame enough, I could bring it home and ask to keep it. My dog Koko had died a few months ago, and her absence was still gnawing away at me. I figured that no dog would ever be as good a friend as she had been, but a new dog was better than nothing.
Sure enough, it didn't take to long for me to spot a pair of eyes cowering under some steps leading up to a second-rate lawyer's office. Dog eyes, too. Must be scared, I thought. Not much more of it was visible besides its glinting eyes. I crouched down and started unsuccessfully trying to coax the dog out into the light. My left hand landed in something warm and sticky. I pulled it away, expecting to see some gum or something on the ground, but then I realized it was blood. Shuddering, I wiped my hand on the gravel, noticing other, smaller patches of blood nearby. That poor dog...what could it have hurt itself on? I wondered.
Concerned now, I began feeling around in my backpack for my flashlight. The dog would be scared, and I doubted it would come out. I turned the light on and shone it at the dog from a safe distance, to see if I should call a vet or animal control or something. I had some money saved up, though probably not enough to pay for a serious vet visit. Once the dog spotted the light, it retreated farther under the steps, so I moved closer, despite knowing full well it wasn't a great idea getting too close to a cornered animal.
Oh, was it ever a bad idea.
The dog could retreat no further under the steps, and, inching closer, I got a good look at it in the weak flashlight beam. It wasn't too big, maybe 30
or 40 pounds, of an indeterminate and scruffy breed. However, I couldn't see any evidence of a wound on it. Then I took a closer look at its face. Its eyes, which locked with mine, were... vacant somehow. The blood I'd found seemed to be coming from its mouth. I decided then and there this was a job for the humane society, not me. I broke eye contact with for a moment as I started wriggling backwards.
Mistake. I turned back as soon as I heard the dog move. It didn't walk so much as fall forward and catch itself repeatedly. I froze and caught my breath
when I spotted the mangled corpse that had been hidden behind the dog. It might have been a cat, or maybe a smaller dog. I'll never know. I do know that that sudden shock of fear cost me too much time. The thing went for my neck. I reeled back and shielded myself with my right arm.
Funny as it sounds now, I'm still not sure it meant to hurt me. The dog seemed almost shocked about the whole ordeal as its teeth tore into my arm, not that that was any consolation to me. I pushed it back and then tore my arm free, lunging to my feet and reaching a full sprint almost immediately. I was so full of adrenaline I didn't even feel my feet hitting the pavement, or care that I'd lost the flashlight. It felt almost like I was flying away, not running. I barely registered the buildings flying by in a blur.
I must have been at least three blocks away before I slowed down and began to think again. That dog must have been rabid! There had never been much of a rabies problem here in recent years, but naturally I had to go and run into the exception. My wound, which up until then had barely registered as painful began throbbing in pace with my racing heart. I took stock of my surroundings and realized that I'd subconsciously run fairly close to the direction of home. I applied pressure to my arm as I walked, to slow the bleeding and as some kind of pathetic attempt to keep the rabies germs from spreading
It was only two blocks home at that point, but it felt like eternity. My frantic energy was quickly depleted and exhaustion or maybe shock set in. My numbed mind began counting my steps. 36, 37, 38, 39. Porch steps: 1, 2, 3. Door. I fumbled around with the door before the memory that both the locks on the door were now kept locked floated up through my confused mind. I entered and was greeted by the familiar sound of my mother chatting on the phone. She left off it for a moment.
"Bit late, aren't you, Sandy?"
I didn't have the patience or strength to ask for the millionth time she not call me that. Patrick at school had teased me relentlessly about the feminine-sounding nickname until one day I slammed his face into a locker when there weren't any teachers around.
"Dog bit me," I said faintly, though she had already gone back to the much more important conversation about Tiffany's second marriage. I dropped my
backpack in an unused armchair and made my way upstairs to the bathroom to try and clean the wound.
The wound itself hadn't bled too much, or at least I didn't think it had. I shuddered at the thought of having left some kind of bloody trail behind that
could be followed. At any rate, there was a row of dark red punctures on the top and bottom of my arm, and a dirty, bloody hand print next to it from my left hand. Trying to mentally erase the image of the corpse from my mind, I washed away at the dirt and blood on my hands first, but even after they looked clean I could still feel an echo of the sticky touch of blood. I tried to ignore that unnerving sensation while I thought of where some antiseptic for the bites might be.
Our medicine cabinet is a jumble of expired prescriptions, half-used bottles of painkillers, my mom's massive supply of makeup, and a few empty hair dye boxes. I had hoped to find some hydrogen peroxide or maybe iodine in this mess, but had no luck. Eventually I located a mostly empty bottle of rubbing alcohol under the sink with the cleaning supplies. It was better than nothing. I daubed it into the punctures and swore at the stinging pain it caused. While looking for the peroxide, I'd found several unopened packages of gauze, and I wrapped my arm in some so I wouldn't have to look at the bite anymore.
That done, I sat around and waited for our ancient computer to boot up, while hoping desperately that the internet bill had been paid recently. When our
homepage, some news page dedicated to celebrities (my mother's choice of course, not mine), loaded successfully, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally something had gone right. A quick search for rabies facts quickly squashed any momentary optimism I had, however. Rubbing alcohol wasn't going to cut it. I'd need a series of shots, preferably within a few days.
I wandered back into the living room. The conversation had shifted to some celebrity breakup. What conceivable impact that had on either of their lives, I
had no idea, but it was clearly very important. I thought about waiting for the intense discussion to conclude, but it might be awhile, and I didn't have the patience to wait.
"Mom, I need to see a doctor. Some rabid dog bit me," I said, unwrapping the gauze a little to display the unmistakable wound.
She paused the conversation, frowning. Whether it was a hint of motherly concern for her son who was probably infected with a horrific virus, or whether
she was just upset at her conversation being interrupted, I wasn't sure and did not care at the moment.
"Can't you just put some peroxide on it?" she said finally, after some scrutiny of the wound and some thought.
"I already looked it up, mom. I'll need a round of shots. Peroxide isn't strong enough," I replied, deciding not to further complicate things by
mentioning that there was, in fact, no peroxide. Only rubbing alcohol that was crazy painful.
She heaved a sigh at her quick fix being stymied. "I'll see about setting up an appointment later, okay?" With that, our conversation was over. She pressed the phone back to her ear. "You heard she said what?"
Feeling like this doctor's appointment would never become reality (I hadn't had a checkup since I was 10, and wasn't even sure if we had a
regular doctor), I decided to mention the matter to the nurse at school tomorrow. Maybe my mom could ignore a possible medical emergency, surely a trained health professional who chose to be a school nurse out of the kindness of her heart wouldn't...
I rewrapped the bite mark, then began the process of scouring the house for the phone book. I'd found the dog in a public area. If a small child or someone with worse reflexes than mine found the dog... well, I didn't want to consider the possibilities. I called Animal Control.
“Uh, yeah. I'd like to report a dog-”
“Missing or found”
“Found, I guess? It bit me. I think-”
“Description of the dog?”
“Possibly rabid?” I could almost hear her forehead creasing in disbelief at that.
“Sir, this city and this organization take pride in keeping our streets safe. We have undergone extensive preventative measures against rabies, particularly in domestic animals. If you are trying to prank call us, kindly hang up now.”
“I'm dead serious. It bit me, and it had already killed another animal.” There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment.
“You didn't provoke it?”
I thought guiltily of how I'd idiotically trapped in under the stairs. “No, I didn't. I doubt the other dog did either.” The image of the dead whateveritwas surfaced in my mind. I continued: “It didn't look like it had killed out of starvation. It tore the other dog up and didn't even eat it” There was more silence.
“I sincerely doubt the dog has rabies, but if you are being truthful, it's a dangerous animal. We'll look into it.”
Dial tone. At least Animal Control probably goes through with its obligations.
Feeling the matter was probably out of my hands at that point, I retrieved my backpack from the armchair and tried to focus on my homework. For once in my life, I was actually a little happy to be going to school the next day.
As it turns out, a medical professional who was trained and possibly competent at one time can, in fact, ignore a medical emergency. Or rather, bury it under a pile of paperwork and red tape. 'Receive parental signature here, there, and on the site of injury; send this to the superintendent, and that to a doctor. File this away for future reference. Sign this saying you won't sue us for something idiotic. Finally, please either give up your soul or promise your
firstborn child to the world of bureaucracy. Have this sticker that has a fun face on it.' As for the goodness of her heart, well, I think her main motivation for working some low-paying job and having to deal with teenagers on a daily basis is that nobody else would hire her. Arguably I am a little bit biased on the subject of her performance. Having spent all of my study hall filling out forms and forging my mother's signature, there was nothing to do but wait. I had at least a week or so before I would have been in much danger of the treatment failing.
Symptoms started the next morning. It was not rabies.