At first, it felt like a fever.
Cool, professional, the voice on the phone informs me symptoms of the latest flu epidemic pass within 48 to 72 hours. Rest. Stay hydrated. Go to urgent care if the fever climbs or symptoms worsen. Be prepared for standing room only and a long time in any waiting room.
This office—the last on my list to try—is a two-hour drive to the nearest city. As with the others, they’re booked nine weeks out, longer for new patients. Do I want to make an appointment?
I growl and end the call.
My dogs sense my anger and tremble. Tails tucked, bellies nearly flattened to the floor, they slink to another room.
Acute onset. Aching head, aching muscles. (Aching everything.) Chills, sweats.
Vertigo. (Is the floor horizontal, vertical, or sliding through angles?)
The sheriff terminated my employment as an animal control officer. He said for erratic attendance. Legitimate grounds, but I wonder whether the workman’s comp claim after I’d been bitten on a call played into the decision. Small towns have limited funds.
Zoonotic means a condition or disease can be transmitted from species to species. The shepherd/husky-looking mutt that bit me got away. I endured the injection series for rabies.
This other condition doesn’t appear as a genuine diagnosis. Conjectures about it offer little enlightenment: congenital porphyria, hypertrichosis, rabies, delusion, psychosis. The truth isn’t believed.
Bloodwork profiles done during the waxing and waning moon show nothing unusual for a person of my age and gender. Everything is WNL–within normal limits.
Brain scans, also unremarkable. Doctors suspect a form of absence seizure lasting longer than usual, but they can’t verify unless it occurs during a scan. I miss appointments during the full moon. Opportunities for diagnostics are lost to me.
Despite aches, no weakness. Restless. No lethargy.
Appetite increased rather than diminished. (Voracious hunger. Ravenous hunger.)
The night is so much brighter under the full moon. It doesn’t feel like day truly ended. People and animals are more active, more restive. Breaking the circadian rhythm for a short time triggers edginess. For some more so than for others.
Maybe there’s something about the tidal pull the moon exerts. Oysters transported inland for studies change when they open and close their shells according to the time tides would occur if the Pacific shoreline lay east of the Rockies.
Why would the cycling moonlight affect me so? I’m not an oyster.
Hot, flushed skin. Burning, itching sensations. (As though I wallowed in thistles and stinging nettles.)
Hyperaesthesia. (Who cranked up the volume of sound? the intensity of scent?)
If you believe the lore, it’s a curse.
Curse. The best explanation from bygone eras. Times when nightmares sprang from superstition. Sometimes fueled by ergot-tainted dreams.
Mankind fears what it doesn’t understand. Eventually, curiosity follows. And so, the science of one era becomes the myth of a later one. It’s reasonable to assume advanced science could illuminate the myth. Even tales bear germs of truth. The germs mutate, and truth evolves into legends, into tales.
What mechanism entangles a viral or bacterial mutation with the cycles of light and dark? I don’t know. The lunar body doesn’t grow and shrink. Earth’s mass blocks the sun in a slow-moving shadow across reflected light. The naked eye can see the shadowed portion, the circular completion even when moonlight is a slender thumbnail sliver. The moon is always full.
Significant numbers (I should’ve recognized sooner)–heart rate speeding from 67 bpm to 118 bpm. Temperature 101.4, up from my normal 96.2 (the heart rate’s easier to miss than the temp, although denial plays a powerful part).
Speech impaired. Bones reshaping, joints rearranging. Teeth throbbing.
Local hunters complain about fewer deer than there used to be. Rabbits, too. Gossip about the habitually drunk bachelor in the next county found savaged to death in his field dwindled after a few months. Closer, a couple of missing sheep, the remains of a dairy cow. Some of the farmers now have a llama, donkey, or mule to protect livestock from coyotes. Some bring along a rifle or shotgun when they work alone in the pastures.
My dogs no longer cower. They’ve grown accustomed to this new dynamic. Their alpha’s simple glance enforces good behavior, a single word comforts them. They’re content and confident in their role as my “service” dogs. Slower than me, they guard our home, our territory, our den when the hunt summons me into the shining night.
I bequeathed the sterling tea set, shipped the heirloom to a distant, distant cousin. In the new moon’s darkness, I locked away my jewelry.
I once loved silver.
by G.L. Francis
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