by Gord McLeod
Continued from Part One
The phone was actively drilling a small hole through his skull and into his brain via the ear canal. At least, Terry assumed that was what was happening; opening his eyes to actually verify his suspicions only made the pain worse. He rasped his throat to clear it and groaned out “Pick up.” His voice was too mangled for his cell to understand him; he had to repeat the procedure three times before it finally connected the call.
“Terry? Where are you? Is something wrong? You haven’t picked up in two days!” His mother, her voice pressing him bodily into the memory foam mattress that usually comforted him but now felt so very prison-like.
“I’m fine,” he rasped, sounding anything but. “I just—I picked up a bit of a bug somewhere. Probably the office.”
“A bit of a bug? You sound horrible! You barely sound human! Have you been to the doctor?”
“I’m fine,” he repeated. “I got cough syrup—” he started before the jingle interrupted him. His head swam; it felt like the whole bed was moving. His stomach surged. If he had fed himself at any time in the last day, he’d have lost it. “I-I got that,” he finished when the syrup ad was done.
“A fat lot of good it’s doing you. Terry, don’t be such a stubborn fool! Listen to yourself! You need a doctor. I’ll be over to drive you up in an hour.”
“But I—” he started before the call disconnected with a tone of finality.
* * *
Five weeks later, Terry stared in disbelief at his family doctor. “What do you mean you’ve never seen anything like this?”
“I’ve never even heard of anything like this. It’s definitely unique in my experience, and as far as I can determine, nobody anywhere has seen it before.”
His mother, meddling as she was, had been right. It had taken several visits over the first week, but they got him on some more powerful medications that at least allowed him to function. He still felt a general malaise that intensified whenever he was exposed to ads; as the days and then weeks passed, he’d started noticing patterns about which specific ads would trigger an attack. Anything that he thought of as an advertisement in any sense would grow to dominate his mind, and the effect was devastatingly strong with some ads. After two weeks he’d had enough, and had insisted his doctor run more in-depth tests.
“It doesn’t respond to the antibiotics I put you on initially; not surprising. The lab results are in, and though I’d have sworn it was a bacterial infection, the lab reports indicate that it’s actually a virus.” The report itself was in the doctor’s hands, various imaging results they’d run the last time he’d stopped in.
“A kind you’ve never seen before?”
Doctor Goodman gave him a half-smile that didn’t hide the puzzlement and concern in his care-worn eyes. “On its own, that’s not so surprising. New viruses pop up all the time. Usually they’re new strains of viruses we’re already familiar with, but entirely new ones aren’t completely unheard of.” He sighed and looked at Terry with open concern. “What bothers me about this one is the symptoms you’ve described. We’re going to have to keep you isolated for a few days while we run more tests and scans.” He sighed. “This virus is accumulating throughout your brain, Terry. But it’s concentrating on a specific region called the pre-frontal cortex. It seems to be stimulating the attentional spotlight. Maybe even focusing it somehow.”
Terry’s mouth was very dry. He nodded mutely. “How much testing will it take?”
Dr. Goodman tapped his report tablet off and slipped it into a pocket, gesturing toward the door. “Like I said, a few days…” he paused. “At least a few days. Is there someone you can call to pack a few things? We should start as soon as possible.”
Together they walked out into the waiting room. A newspaper lay out on one of the tables, open to an inner page. The ads on the page immediately grabbed his attention, but not before a headline right out of the tabloids caught his eye; Viral Marketing – Top Tips From the Experts. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he followed Dr. Goodman out to the already-waiting ambulance.
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