O, Death: Part III

by Matt P.

It turned out that their winter break ‘internship’ was set to primarily consist of cleaning up things that were non-biological. Like when Doctor Alvarez spilled an entire two liter of soda he was bringing for the Oncology Department staff holiday party, and there had been two shiny High Schoolers hanging around to help. While both Antigone and Siobhan were both handy with a mop and bucket, it didn’t exactly match with their dreams the night before of watching doctors save lives.

They had gotten a general walking tour in the morning, but then Morgan had gotten called away to deal with something and the rest had to be postponed. They had been left in the care of a nurse that Morgan trusted, Paul in Pediatrics. Nurse Paul, nothing like the stereotypes of male nurses that television had offered for them, was serious and to the point. That didn’t stop either Antigone or Siobhan from liking him, but it had been a jarring bit of reality intruding. Paolo, Nurse Paul’s partner in crime, was meanwhile the exact stereotype of a male nurse in every conceivable way. The two of them had given them an in-depth tour of the hospital’s pediatric wing, including a trip to see several patients who were being released in good health that lifted everyone’s spirits after they had first gone through the infant intensive care unit—or NICU—that had lowered them.

The afternoon crept on while waiting for Morgan to be done with her consult, and it was pushing 2:30 before the red-haired Faerie doctor returned. Paolo, who had come in after she had left, came over to give her a hug after proclaiming he liked the new hair.

“I just stopped dyeing it, actually,” Morgan offered, with an amused look to Antigone and Siobhan as they came over. “I’d dyed it for so many years I almost forgot what color it was.” Paolo, and apparently everyone around them, accepted that as a possibility despite the fact that during the Three Stripes crisis and for six months before it her hair had been short and dark and black—not mid-back length and curly red. “I figured I would show them the plaque for the plague,” Morgan offered. Both nurses winced a little bit at that, but nodded. Another nurse named Maliya, an older woman with skin a few shades darker than Antigone and Siobhan’s who wore a hijab with red crescents on it, murmured a soft prayer in response to that.

The hallway that Morgan lead them in to was a quiet one just off of the main pediatric wing. Pediatrics tried to combat the normal paint scheme for hospitals by not being a sickly but easy to clean antiseptic green, and was instead painted a more lively series of pastels. But in the soft light of the hallway they walked down even those colors seemed muted in respect to a series of pictures and a plaque hanging from the wall.

“What is your specialty, by the way?” Siobhan asked curiously as they walked toward the little display. “Until you started talking to us about this I thought that you were just the medical examiner.”

“Currently? I’m board certified in forensic and surgical pathology, as well as oncology,” Morgan explained almost off-handedly. “Of course that’s just this go around, I’ve specialized in a number of different things over the years. I volunteered overseas as an Ebola doctor earlier this year, largely because I can survive it,” she offered. Neither girl felt like they wanted to follow up too closely on that, since she hadn’t said she was immune—just that it wasn’t fatal. “Here we are,” she said, stopping in front of the plaque.

The plaque was discrete, lighter wood with dark words. It listed names, with dates of birth and dates of death. The header of the plaque read ‘In Memoriam: Victims of the Plague of 1986.’ Around the plaque were pictures of what were presumably the victims, and that was what took Antigone’s breath away.

“They’re all children,” Antigone gasped, her voice quavering a little bit. None of them could have been over 18 years old, and most of them were significantly younger. The pictures should them mostly in ones and twos, some in groups of four or five. All races and genders, and all age groups of children. Many were taken in the hospital, some were obviously brought from home, and all had little plaques beneath them identifying which children were in the photos. “How many died?”

Morgan reached out with a fingertip to brush a couple of the pictures. “23 children died in the span of two weeks. To this day no one has any idea what caused it, only that it started with a fever and progressed through hallucinations and eventually organ failure. At the time I specialized in infectious diseases and pediatrics and had been a doctor here for about a decade. I retired from that identity shortly afterword.”

Siobhan hadn’t spoken for a moment, her eyes moving quickly between the pictures on the wall and the names on the plaque. Her eyes were serious, for that moment no hint of sarcasm or joking around, and they widened a little bit as she got to the end of the list. “Why are there two kids that aren’t listed with a day they died?” She asked. Morgan’s eyes shaded a little bit, sighing. She reached up to touch a picture of two children smiling. They were obviously brother and sister and were both in scout uniforms, the boy’s chestnut hair in a boyish bowl cut and the girls in pigtails. They couldn’t have been more than twelve years old in the picture.

“Matthew and Natalie Morrison. Matty and Natty. Terrible parents, sweet kids,” Morgan explained with a shake of her head. “They…disappeared. In the last few days of the plague it was more chaotic than the battle at the High School. The CDC was here, people were panicked, the media was trying to get any information. And Matty and Natty just…disappeared. We assumed they were hallucinating and went out in to city.” Her voice trailed off slowly, as if considering something that she had considered many times before, or didn’t believe.

“Border isn’t a good city to be wandering around tripping balls in,” Siobhan agreed, but with a raised eyebrow at Morgan. “But…”

“But I’ve always suspected that there was more to it. It’s Border, after all,” Morgan shook her head, and then looked up at the pictures again. “I’ve been a doctor, nurse, midwife, apothecary, and wise woman since my mother started teaching me herbs when I was a little girl. I am, if I may say so, pretty damn good at my job. But to this day I don’t know what it was or how they got it.”

They grew silent at that, the hallway filled only with the passing sounds of the hospital and the hum of the phosphorescent lights. As was her custom, Siobhan broke the silence. “We need to lighten the mood. You want to show us the morgue?”