Wednesday, March 17, 2010

[Mythos II] The Doom That Comes A-Sleeping

(copyright 2010, all rights reserved, by Thomas J Hardman, Jr.)

Perhaps you'd like to read the the introduction and beginning of the story?

Rabies, or so I've heard it said, isn't the worst possible way to die. I seem to recall the voice of a young woman -- perhaps just a girl -- just outside the door of my bedroom, asking "Why's he so scared of rabies? I mean, you just go to sleep, right?" No doubt I was dreaming. And no doubt I am only dreaming of the scrabbling, the scrabbling in the walls, that goes flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump gnaw gnaw gnaw long after I've sat up and turned on the lights. I couldn't see what was making that noise, so I guess the noise is just my imagination. In the same way, I couldn't see the young girl, so she's just my imagination, too, talking about rabies.

It's true enough that it's just a viral encephalitis, and indeed far more young adults -- mostly college students in cramped dormitory environments -- die of other encephalitis or meningitis strains in the US alone, every year, than die in all of North America from rabies.

Dr Pasteur's discovery of immunization against rabies ranks as one of the earliest triumphs of the distant beginnings of modern medicine. The body reacts very strongly indeed to even the slightest hint of exposure to the virus that often people who have been bitten by a mad dog report almost immediately that any other infections they had have gone away.

The body is desperately trying to so flood the system as to exhaust its immune response, because the virus is easy to kill in almost any tissue that will allow the passage of antibodies. Some tissues, however, just won't pass antibodies, and if the virus reaches those tissues, it is beyond the reach of the immune system and freely reproduces at an astonishing rate. Which tissues are these? The nerves, and to a lesser degree, other tissues with the same embryonic origin, such as the living layers of the skin.

Ultimately, the victim does just "go to sleep", but that's only after hours or days of profound changes in consciousness, dementia, varying stages of paralysis, and occasionally of insane fits of rage and aggression.

Only one person has ever survived, unvaccinated, and had a full recovery... of whom science is aware.

There are a variety of opinions on the efficacy of the "post-exposure protocol". It's clear that nobody who received "PEP" in time succumbed to rabies from the bite that infected them. Less clear is whether or not the virus is ever completely cleared of the virus. There's one minority camp with the opinion that although the body is fully primed against the virus, and that immunity prevents the virus from reaching the nervous system tissues that propagate it to the brain, that the other tissues in which the virus can grow -- the living cells that produce the layer of dead cells we call the 'outer skin" -- might continue to harbor it. This would constantly re-stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, and the person would remain healthy. Whether anyone else whose broken skin contacted the survivor's broken skin would remain healthy remains obscure. On the outer skin, simple soap and water easily destroys the virus, which is evidently rather weak compared to some viruses such as the ones that cause influenza and the common cold.

The scrabbling in the walls isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Indeed, this has been going on, semi-seasonally, for the last few years. Usually it's a phenomenon of late winter, as best I can recall. This leads me to believe that it's most likely a rodent, rather than a bat. I know that there are day squirrels galore in the yard, and as many nocturnal flying squirrels. There are also chipmunk; I've seen them and the day squirrels fighting. Chipmunk are definitely fond of burrowing and can create large and complex burrow systems, and are apparently known to burrow as groups into stone walls which can become undermined and destroyed.

Chipmunk would explain the scrabbling, and probably the gnawing, as well.

But what about the fluttering?

It's too early in the year to explain away the fluttering as some sort of errant insect; it would have to be awfully large. There are insects in the house, the inevitable ants for example. They mostly stay in the walls as it's easy to clean up after eating in such a way that there's nothing to attract them into the area where people live. The ones who venture in anyway quickly encounter poison baits.

Then there are the "camel crickets"... but they don't flutter, not from one side of the room to the other. Admittedly the walls are probably full of them, they definitely are present in the basement, lurking in the darker areas. We used to call them "cave crickets", although they aren't the true cave-adapted blind kind. They know when the lights come on, but they do have these huge long antennae that aid them in navigating the dark. Not truly cave-adapted, nor are they comfortable in the light. They're... transitional.

Their population rises and falls along mysterious cycles. I'm not sure if they have a breeding season or not, since they are present in all sizes all year long, here in the basement.

Perhaps the population in my basement is being continually replenished from a larger habitat... Perhaps a cave. And where there are caves, there are bats. Where there are bats, all too frequently, there is rabies.