On a warm day in May, Mercelina sat at a bus stop on a deserted street. A man in a hoodie approached. Mercelina saw a faint outline of his features in the semi-darkness at five o’clock in the morning. He sat on the bench a few feet from her, while she waited for her bus ride to the City Center Hospital.
The man, like Mercelina, seemed to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Her inhalation of his foul breath from coughing turned her away from him.
When the bus arrived, and they boarded it, Mercelina sat away from the man and started reading the news on her smartphone. Phlegm in her throat made her pop a mint into her mouth.
When the bus arrived at the hospital, Mercelina’s itchy throat forced her to stop at the hospital’s gift shop to buy more mints.
She hurried into the elevator for her ride to the fourth-floor palliative-care unit to provide comfort for her terminally ill patients.
The mints helped Mercelina to stifle her cough and clear her throat quietly under her breath. She dabbed at her watery eyes with a tissue whenever her scratchy throat threatened to make her cough.
Following her routine, she moved along the fifteen beds of the extra-large ward to check her patients’ vital signs and dispense medications with the assistance of a Personal Care Worker.
When she reached the last bed, she doubled over from an unexpected fit of coughing before she could get a mint into her mouth. The eighty-nine-year-old terminally ill patient jumped out of sleep and gasped for air. The Personal Care Worker rushed to the patient’s aid while Mercelina scampered out of the ward and into the washroom. She splashed her face and swallowed handfuls of water from the sink’s faucet.
After drying up, a worried Mercelina exited the bathroom and entered the nurse’s station. The Personal Care Worker stared at her with shock and confusion until Mercelina told her about her seasonal allergies. The PCW gave Mercelina a face mask to avoid inhaling dust and pollen and advised her that the patient had settled back into sleep after the incident.
Self-conscious about wearing the mask in public, Mercelina discarded it in the garbage bin at the entrance of the hospital before she stepped onto the bus for the ride home. Her allergy medication subdued her itchy throat on the ride home.
Mercelina hurried into the shower when she entered her apartment. After a head to toe cleansing, she made supper and relaxed to watch TV until bedtime.
After taking her allergy pills, the bus ride to work the next morning was uneventful. With no allergy symptoms, Mercelina carried her mints but did not wear a face-mask during her shift. The replacement PCW did not know of the previous day’s episode.
When she reached the last bed, another patient had replaced the usual occupant. She felt a pang of guilt. Had she caused her patient’s demise?
Burdened with worry, she hurried to the nurse’s station to check the patient’s report. Stunned by the word ‘Discharged’ instead of ‘Deceased,’ she re-read the document several times to see if the doctor had made a mistake.
Once she was alone, she used her phone to take pictures of the report, making sure to get the patient’s contact information.
Immediately after her shower when she got home that evening, Mercelina read the report on her phone one last time before she called the contact number of the patient. The was no answer. She tried a few more times with the same result. With her appetite lost, she drank a cup of hot chocolate and went to sleep with her cell phone plugged in to charge at the night table beside her bed.
The shrill ring of the phone at midnight startled Mercelina awake. The screen displayed no caller ID. Trembling hands picked it up, and she answered. The hollow voice of her patient thanked her for the send-off. She claimed that she was now in a better place with no more pain and misery. Before Mercelina could gather her wits, the line went dead, leaving her to stare at the ceiling for a few hours, confused and frightened.
Mercelina mustered enough courage to leave her bed for a bathroom relief with the phone clutched in her hands. When she placed the phone on the counter to wash her hands at the sink, the lights flickered and went out. She tried to grab the phone to turn the flashlight on, but she fumbled and dropped it on the tiled floor. She heard it shatter into pieces.
The nurse gasped at the vanity mirror. She could not see her reflection in the darkness, but her eyes reflected two yellow lights encircled by orange rings. She flung herself away from the frightful sight in the mirror and knocked the wind out of herself when she slammed against the back wall.
Mercelina’s heart thumped when the mirror lit up while the surroundings remained dark. The man from the bus stop appeared with the same eyes. He stood out as the leader of an army of hooded individuals who stared at the terror-filled woman.
Mercelina clutched her throat. Without moving his lips, he spoke in her head. He told her that she was infected and controlled by a government manufactured virus that he had implanted into her at the bus stop. The virus controlled her mind.
Mercelina had become a lethal weapon that carried death viruses through coughing to eliminate the unwanted members of the population. Selected operatives targeted other undesirable segments of society.
When her phone sparked and burst into flames, she followed the man’s glance down to the right. Her heart stopped. A brand new phone in an unopened box stood on the counter.
Before the image in the mirror faded away, the man declared that Mercelina had written the report and forged the doctor’s signature. The government needed the body for human experiments. The lights flickered back on.