Quarantine

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The patient was laughing again, and Dr. Milton couldn’t tear his eyes away from the glass. Patient 392, named Chris Laker, had been infected less than an hour ago, and the symptoms were kicking in remarkably fast.

Dr. Milton took notes on his clipboard, repeatedly glancing at Patient 392. The patient was lying in his bed, laughing hysterically. There was a wide smile on his face, and it was almost comforting. Milton marked down the time that the laughing had begun, but his handwriting was horrifically sloppy. It was hard to write from inside of this bulky quarantine suit.

They’d brought in thirty more patients today, and another group was coming within the hour. Dr. Milton had been awfully busy. Watching Patient 392 through the glass, Milton wished that he could be as happy. He doubted that he’d laughed since the outbreak had begun.

The quarantine was running out of space. They were going to have to start sealing patients in groups. In major cities, there were already over thousands of people infected. The whole country was in crisis, and the government wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.

The crisis wasn’t just the sickness. There was also the problem that some people wanted to get sick.

Dr. Milton left the room quickly, in a hurry to get out of this bulky suit. The air that he breathed felt musty, and he hated the way that it rubbed against his skin. The clean-off would take fifteen minutes, but it always felt like thirty. Only after that would he be able to remove his quarantine suit.

During the clean-off, in which he was thoroughly soaked with soapy water, and exposed to all sorts of germ-killing chemicals, Dr. Milton thought about how this sickness worked. A dopamine overload. The brain would begin to produce dopamine at an insane rate, causing a state of pure bliss. Those infected would become uselessly happy.

The disease was airborne. It was estimated that fifteen thousand people in the United States were currently infected. The number doubled every week. It wasn’t a problem with procedures. The quarantines were all perfectly safe. It was those damned junkies. Hospitals all over the country were getting raided by maniacs who actually wanted to be infected.

The laugh of Patient 392 was sticking with Dr. Milton. That grin on his face. Those twinkling eyes. They were all so happy. So horribly, horribly happy.

The disease wasn’t deadly, but there was still no cure. The few medications that had already been proposed were difficult to administer, as the patients didn’t really want to get any better.

Okay, so the disease was deadly, but in an indirect way. Patients stopped eating. They stopped moving. They stopped caring. They would just sit in bed all day and all night, laughing uncontrollably with that stupid, hopeless grin on their face, until eventually their body managed to fall asleep. The patients didn’t get a lot of sleep. It’s hard to lose consciousness when you’re laughing so hard.

Dr. Milton ripped off his suit and hung it back up with the rest. He started walking down the halls of the hospital, noticing the concern on everybody’s faces. Many of the doctors hadn’t slept in days. There was still no reliable cure. Not a single patient had been saved, and now they were dying of starvation.

The intercom came to life, an unusual occurrence. “Alert, all doctors and visitors!” the intercom bellowed. “An emergency has been called. Everybody must evacuate the hospital! Intruders are—”

The intercom went dead.

Those damned junkies were here.

Dr. Milton quickened his pace, until he eventually decided to break into a run. The tired doctors all around him had sprung to life, moving towards the stairwell.

But not everybody was going down the stairs. A swarm of people was coming up, pushing the doctors out of their way.

The raid was over thirty people, with a wild look in their eyes. They attacked the doctors, blocking any attempts to stop their invasion. There were security guards posted on each floor, but they were vastly outnumbered. Some of the intruders had guns. Dr. Milton dove into an empty office when he heard the shots firing, still a full twenty feet away from the stairwell.

He had to get out of here. This hospital was doomed. The intruders were going to break the quarantine, letting the disease into the air. Milton had to be as far from this building as possible.

Though the guns were still firing, and the halls were still swarming with doctors and guards and junkies, Dr. Milton crawled on his hands and knees out into the hall, moving towards the stairs.

“There has a been a breach!” the intercom shouted. “The quarantine on the second floor has been broken! Evacuate immediately! Evacuate immediately!”

Dr. Milton was on the third floor, but he held his breath anyway. He knew that there was no hope. He couldn’t hold his breath long enough to get out of the hospital. He jumped to his feet and started running.

A bullet struck him in the back, his left shoulder blade. Dr. Milton fell to the ground, writhing and shouting. The stairs were so close…

“The quarantine on the first floor has been broken!” the intercom yelled. “The quarantine on the third floor has been broken! The fourth floor! The fifth!”

Milton tried to hold his breath again, but he could feel the bullet sitting in him. The pain was too much. He kept gasping for air.

“All quarantines broken!” the intercom announced. “Evacuate immediately!”

He was crawling again, so close to the stairs, but his vision was getting fuzzy. Milton clawed forward, but he was slowing down.

“Everybody,” the intercom said, speaking more quietly now. “The hospital is infected. You should get out while you can. Ha ha ha. Isn’t that nice? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha……….”

Dr. Milton died with a smile on his face.

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