When I stepped off the plane the most
astonishing sight came into view of mountains that
touched the sky. The greenery was so brilliant that
the blue of the sky was muted. Clouds circled the
mountains but did not touch them. I stood transfixed
as I took in this spectacle.

"Excuse me ma'am, but the rest of the passengers
need to get by." It was the kindly voice of the
steward that brought me back to the present.

"I am so sorry," I said.

“It's quite alright, Dr. Albright. It's the reaction most
people have when they first see our little island
paradise.”

I had come to the little island paradise to conduct
research for the Centers for Disease Control. The
world was in the midst of a pandemic and millions of
people had died worldwide, but here on Martin's
Island, only one person had died from the VR1-
Virus. The rest of the population had remained
disease-free. Originally the thought had been that
the island had shut down, thereby keeping the virus
at bay, but in reality, tourists had been coming and
going the entire time. The question was how they
had maintained their healthy community. The
answer to that question might be the answer to the
pandemic and a solution for the future.

As I looked around, I could see no other planes on
the tarmac. One flight a day from Miami was what
the brochure had indicated. We had landed at noon
and the sun shone brightly overhead. The heat
would have been staggering except for the soft
breeze.

A small, seventyish gentleman in shorts and a
brightly patterned shirt stepped forward holding a
sign with my name. He smiled and offered to take
my bag. "We're delighted you are here, Dr. Albright.
The car is just over here." He tilted his head in the
direction of a dusty, green Jeep. The vehicle had a
canvas roof, but little else in the way of safety. The
doors had been removed and the windshield was
folded down over the engine hood. He reacted to
the surprise in my expression. "I can assure you
that it is quite safe."

“Thank you," I said. I clutched my medical bag close
as I walked toward the Jeep. "Do we have far to
travel to the clinic?”

"Call me Gerard. It's about ten miles to the other
side of the island. You'll get a good look at Martin's
Island as we travel."

As we drove along the coastal road Gerard pointed
out some of the landmarks and talked of local
history. The ocean waves were calm and rhythmic.
The sky was cloudless and blue. Gulls hovered over
the water in search of food and a few people
lounged on the sandy beaches that stretched along
the island's coast. On the other side of the Jeep, the
hills rose sharply and melded into the central
mountains. Gerard explained that the tallest of the
mountains was a dormant volcano that the locals
called Mauna. The clouds that I had seen earlier
circled this peak, but the very top of Mauna was
visible.

We passed through a small village with wooden
buildings and colored umbrellas on tables outside.
Gerard said that these were the local restaurants
and bars. Small homes were scattered about the
hillside above the restaurants. The houses were
brightly colored and appeared neat and well cared
for. A bit farther down the road buildings appeared
that were larger and more modern. "This is hotel
row," Gerard said. He shook his head. "There are
restrictions on height and size, but it seems every
year they get bigger and more expansive."

"I take it you don't care for the tourists," I said.

"The tourists are okay." He was quiet for a bit. I
thought perhaps he was working on what he should
say. "It's just the business people that come and
want to take over the island that I have a problem
with."

"I can understand that," I said. I sat quietly for the
rest of the ride to the clinic. I wasn't sure what
Gerard and the locals might think about my study of
their habits, but I didn't want to begin my journey
by offending anyone.

The clinic was just beyond the hotels in a cinder-
block one-story building. It was painted white and
had bright red shutters that appeared to function to
keep out hurricane speed winds and torrential rain.
It was nestled at the foot of the hills and back away
from the road some distance. I'm sure that was to
help with flooding or any wave surges. The St. Angel
Clinic sign was large and well-positioned. We turned
into the dirt road and parked just outside the front
door. Two other vehicles were parked at the clinic—
another Jeep and a van that looked as if it was a
hundred years old.

"We're here," Gerard said as the Jeep jerked to a
stop. He engaged the hand brake and jumped from
his seat. Coming around to my side he offered his
hand and then reached into the back seat to retrieve
my small bag. I hadn't packed much for this trip,
knowing that the weather would be hot and I might
not stay very long.

“Thank you.”

The front screen door creaked as Gerard opened it
and the main wooden door was propped open. No
air conditioning, I thought as I scanned the dark
room. A row of chairs lined the wall that faced the
water. At the other end of this room was a counter
for checking in. The room was painted green and
the floor was covered in rough-hewn boards. No
expense spared, I laughed to myself.

A young man in a white coat appeared in the
doorway next to the counter. "Ah! Dr. Albright, I
presume?" He extended his hand. "My name is Dr.
David Turner. I'm the attending here."

I took his hand and felt his firm grip. "I'm delighted
to be here."

“Did you have a good flight?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He looked at Gerard. "Thank you for delivering Dr.
Albright. I think we can take it from here."

Gerard turned to bid me goodbye and went out the
door. I heard the Jeep motor turn over and then the
sound of tires on the dirt as he drove away.

Dr. Turner picked up my small bag and motioned me
through the door he had come through. "You'll be
staying here at the clinic in our guest room while
you conduct your studies. I hope you'll find it
agreeable."

I was a bit surprised that I would be staying on-
premises but quickly decided that might be better. I
could do my work and perhaps not have to stay too
long. Although I was as intrigued as anyone else at
the CDC, this trip had come at an inopportune time
in my personal life. My husband and I had been
having some troubles for a while, and leaving him
during this fearful time wasn't ideal. But I had
decided that my career might do well if I could
figure out the island's secret, so I had taken the
assignment and told Doug we should use this time
apart to think about our relationship.

The guest room was sparsely appointed but had
everything I would need while I conducted my
research. The double bed was against the far wall,
and there was a small wooden desk with a chair and
a closet with some drawers built-in. David set my
bag down on the bed and motioned to the door.
"You’ll find a bathroom across the hall. I will warn
you, however, you will be sharing it with staff and
patients, so it will only be a private bathroom after
hours."

"I will bear that in mind," I replied. I couldn't
imagine sharing it with all those people, but I didn't
know what to say. "Where do you live?"

"The small, one-room building out back is mine. It's
not much, but it does allow some separation from
work at night. The locals know where I live, though,
so often they come to my door when they need
help." David looked around the room and at my little
bag. "I’ll give you some time to unpack and freshen
up and then we can go to my office and talk. You're
in luck, it has been a quiet day." With that, he
turned and left the room, closing the door behind
him.

I stood in the middle of the room and let out a sigh.
Next to the bed was a window. I opened it, hoping
for a breeze. It was warm inside the clinic, but it
wasn't stifling, probably because of the cinder block
and location nestled into the hill, but the air was still
and stale in the small room and fresh air would help
immeasurably.

When I finished settling in, I found David in his
office, just down the hall from my room. It was a
nicely furnished room with a carpet, a large wooden
desk, several filing cabinets and colorful pictures on
the walls. The office window was open and there
was a soft breeze moving through the room. I found
myself jealous of the breeze and hoped that maybe
at night my room would cool.

As if reading my mind, David smiled. "If you leave
your door open at night, you'll get a nice cross
breeze from the rest of the open windows in the
building. I would keep the door closed during the
day, however."

“Thanks, I'll do that.”

An older woman appeared in the doorway holding a
tray with our lunch. She set it on the edge of David's
desk. He introduced her as Essie and said she would
be providing our meals. “She lives down the road
and is an amazing cook."

I smiled at Essie. "It looks divine."

Essie nodded and left the room. I sat down in the
chair next to the desk and as we ate the fruit and
meats on the tray we talked about the clinic and the
island. David had come to Martin's Island on
vacation after graduating from medical school and
found it a perfect place to begin his medical career.
That had been five years ago and he had no plans to
leave anytime soon. "The locals are industrious and
caring people. They will make you feel at home
quickly and take care of all your needs if you are
open to them."

After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon
talking about the pandemic and David's thoughts
about why Martin's Island had been spared the
deaths we were seeing worldwide. He admitted that
he didn't have any medical answers for the
anomaly. He offered the use of his files and
suggested that I spend some time in the village
talking with and observing people.

The clinic closed at five o'clock and David suggested
we go into town for dinner and he'd show me
around. I was grateful for the company. I didn't
travel by myself often and usually only to medical
conferences where there were people and activities
to keep me from being alone. The idea of hanging
around Martin's Island by myself was a bit daunting,
I welcomed his companionship.

The café was in the center of the cluster of bars and
restaurants. It was a beautiful, clear night so we sat
at a table outside. The stars filled the sky and the
aroma from the kitchen was intoxicating. As we
stood to leave, I noticed Essie sitting at one of the
interior tables with Gerard and another older man.
Essie's eyes met mine and I smiled and gave her a
little wave. She nodded slightly and went back to
her conversation.

When I returned to the clinic I tried calling Doug. I
wasn't sure how good the reception would be out in
the country, but I could hear the phone ringing.
After five rings it went to voice mail. "Doug, I have
arrived safely and will begin my research tomorrow
morning. I hope you are alright—feel free to call me
at any time. I love you." After a short hesitation, I
disengaged. Even though the time apart might be a
good idea, it was worrisome not to talk to Doug. The
pandemic was everywhere—except here it seemed—
and I would feel better when I could talk with my
husband.

In the morning I dressed and wandered the village
and the beaches talking to locals whenever I could.
Everyone seemed open and willing to answer my
questions, but no one had an answer about how
they had stayed healthy. I began my methodical
search of David's medical files. So far I couldn't find
any trace of evidence that would pinpoint what
made this island different from the rest of the world.
Food and exercise are common among all islanders
and yet, other islands had suffered at the hands of
the pandemic. People here on Martin's Island
suffered all the common ailments: heart disease,
diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma, and
cancer. But only one, an old man, had ever shown
symptoms of the VR1-virus. That patient had died,
but no one else contracted the virus. It was a
mystery indeed, but an important one to unravel.

At the end of clinic hours, David came into his office
looking tired. "It was a busy day," he said. He sat
down in the chair next to his desk and looked at me.
"Find anything useful?"

I shook my head as I stretched my back. I hadn't
realized how long I had been sitting there hunched
over his files. "I'm not finding anything that would
answer my questions. Do you have any theories?"
As a medical doctor, I was hoping he might be able
to shed some light on the anomaly.

"I don't really. I guess I stay busy enough that I
haven't given it much thought. Thinking the tropical
weather and sunshine might make the virus less
aggressive."

“It's a good theory except for the fact that other
tropical islands haven't been so lucky.”

"Well, good luck with your search. I'm going to my
house to call it a day. I'm nearby if you need
anything." With that, he stood up and turned to
leave.

“I think I'll go back to our little café for some dinner.
Shall I bring you something?”

"Thanks, but Essie left me a tray for this evening. I
knew I would be busy all day and she offered. I
should have said something to you—but things just
got away from me." David looked a bit sheepish as
he said this.

“No problem. I could use the fresh air.”

I tried calling Doug again. Still no answer. Now I
was beginning to get worried, so I called Annie, my
best friend and colleague. She answered on the
second ring.

“Hi, stranger. How’s it going in paradise?”

I smiled at Annie's optimism. "Sorry to say I haven't
cracked the mystery yet. But I'm calling to see if
you've seen or heard from Doug. I tried calling
yesterday and again today and no answer." I was
trying hard not to let my concern show.

"I haven't, but you know, we've been slammed here
at the hospital. I will check on him after my shift and
let him know you've been trying to call. How is it
there?"

“Well, as you'd imagine, beautiful—sunny, hot and
not a cloud in the sky, except for the ones that circle
the volcano.”

I could hear Annie's laughter. "A volcano? Hope it's
not active."

"No, apparently it’s been dormant for centuries." I
sat down on the edge of the bed and found myself
wanting to lie down. "I’m heading into the village
shortly for some dinner and then early bed and up
to continue my research through the files here at
the clinic. It's a mystery here—no indication or
promise of an answer."

“Don't worry, if there is an answer to be found,
you're the one to find it!”

After we hung up I decided to just lie on the bed a
minute longer. Sometime later in the night—it was
so dark outside even the stars seemed to be hiding—
I awoke to the sound of wind—wind like someone
had pointed one of those giant circular fans next to
my bedroom window. A howling sound accompanied
the wind. I could hear a banging sound coming from
the front of the clinic and I jumped out of bed and
ran to see where the noise was coming from. The
screen door was banging against its frame, so I
latched it closed and began to lower the windows.

Suddenly the lights came on and I turned to see
David standing in the room. "I heard the wind and
came to check on you. You alright?"

I had to admit I was glad to see someone else. "I'm
fine. The screen door was swinging in the wind
making a banging sound, so I got up to close it."

"Sometimes these storms come out of nowhere. It
should be fine by morning." David double checked
the front door to the clinic and then helped me finish
closing windows.

"Thanks for checking on me. I must admit, I fell
asleep and woke to the sound of wind and it was a
bit unsettling." I felt silly admitting this, but it was
true.

“No problem. I should have mentioned the
possibility, but it slipped my mind.”

“Any other weather issues you might want to
mention now?" I laughed and it sounded a bit
nervous to me. "Just in case.”

“No, I think this is the big one. Do you want me to
stay here with you?”

"Oh, no, that isn't necessary. Now that I know what
it is, I'll be fine." I tried to sound confident. I did
realize that I hadn't had dinner and was now a little
hungry. "Any chance of a snack around here?"

"Oh, of course. Essie keeps snacks in the little
refrigerator behind the counter. Help yourself. I'm
sure she'll be by to restock tomorrow." He opened
the refrigerator door. "Yep, lots of goodies in here—
you should be fine."

I checked the refrigerator and found some fruit and
cookies and gratefully took them back to my room. I
hadn't lowered my bedroom window, so I set my
food on the desk and closed the window. Papers and
files had blown onto the floor and I stooped to
gather them. Soon I heard banging again. I thought
maybe the screen door had come loose so I got up
and went to check. People were pounding on the
door and shouting. I turned on the lights and ran to
the door to open it.

At least a dozen people stood outside the clinic, and
all of them were shouting at the same time. "Help!
Help! The café collapsed and several people have
been hurt! Where is Dr. Turner?" I noticed a man
carrying a young boy in his arms. I could see blood
trickling down the boy's face and right arm and the
man holding him had blood on his arms as well.

"Come in! I'll take a look at you two and one of you
can run out back and get Dr. Turner. My name is Dr.
Albright. Let's see what we can do for you." The
man seemed relieved to bring the boy into the
waiting room. I led them back to the exam room
while a few in the group ran through the hallway to
the back door. Everyone else milled around the
waiting room talking loudly about what had
happened.

As the man set the boy on the exam table he looked
at me. "You're a doctor?"

“Yes, Dr. Albright from Atlanta, Georgia. I'm here on
a research project, but I can certainly take a look
at—”

"Richardo, he's my son. We were just leaving the
café when it collapsed. The debris hit both of us but
seemed to hit Richardo harder. He'll be okay,
though, right?" The man talked rapidly and stared
intently into my eyes.

"I will take a look at Richardo and then you as well.
Let's see what we have here." I began my exam of
the boy and discovered mostly superficial wounds.
He responded well to my questions and I decided it
was not likely that he had a concussion. His father's
wounds were mostly superficial as well, but since he
had carried the boy, the blood commingled on the
father and his wounds had appeared more serious
until cleaned. "You both will be fine—just some
scrapes and bruises. You were lucky."

I heard the commotion when the crowd saw David
enter through the back door. He stuck his head in
the exam room and when I gave him the thumbs up,
he continued into the waiting room. As I finished
with the boy and his father, I joined the group and
learned that several people had been trapped inside
the café when the wind caused the roof to fall. David
went with the group to see what he could do to help
and I agreed to stay at the clinic and receive any
wounded that might be found.

As I headed back to the exam room to clean up and
inventory what supplies we had for a major
emergency, I decided that I would keep the bloodied
sponges for examination after things were calm. I
placed the sponges I had used on the boy and his
father in separate bags and marked them.

Soon more survivors began to arrive at the clinic.
Most were carried in by villagers but a couple were
able to walk on their own with assistance. David
only had one exam room, so we moved a couch
from the waiting room into his office where I set up
to examine patients. The triage center was in the
hallway and David's nurse, Bella, took over. She
sent the most injured to David and I would get those
who only needed cleaning and bandaging.
Unfortunately, two people didn't survive—they
worked in the kitchen where the most damage had
taken place. Even during the chaos, I thought to ask
David to bag sponges and mark them for my
research, and I did the same.

It was late when the clinic became quiet. Most of the
patients had been sent home to recuperate. The
elderly man I saw sitting in the café the first night
with Essie was still in the exam room. He had some
head injuries and David felt he needed observation
before he could go home. All in all, I was exhausted,
but exhilarated. It had been a dozen years since I
had contact with patients. I had decided early in my
career that patient care wasn't my passion and had
moved into research. Although I worked with
doctors of patients, I hadn't had real contact with
sick or injured people. It felt good to get my hands
back in the game, and I knew that David would have
been able to handle the crisis eventually, but having
my help probably saved him hours.

When I cleaned up and changed my bloodied
clothes, I headed for the refrigerator in the waiting
room. Essie had been there during the
pandemonium and had filled the refrigerator with
food. I looked around and saw her sitting quietly in
one of the chairs by the window. "Essie, thank you
so much for the food!"

“You are welcome. How is Rudolfo?”

“He's the older man from the café, right?”

Essie nodded. I could see her hands fondling a set of
rosary beads.

"I think he will be fine. Dr. Turner just wants to
observe him through the night and then he will
probably be able to go home in the morning. Is he
your husband? A relative?"

Essie again nodded. "He is my brother. He is very
old and I am afraid."

I sat down next to her and put my hand on her
shoulder. "Dr. Turner will take very good care of
him. You should go home and rest."

Essie looked into my eyes and I could see the tears.
"I will wait here if that is okay."

I smiled. "Of course it is." I got up and went back to
the refrigerator and picked up an apple. "Thank you
again." I headed back to the exam room to tell
David about my conversation.

After things had calmed down, I looked at my phone
and noticed that I had a couple of voice mails. One
was from Annie: "I talked with Doug. He's fine and
should call you." The other was from Doug: "Sorry I
wasn't here to take your call. I've been on call most
of the time you've been gone. We have more
patients every day so I'm sleeping here at the
hospital. Will try to call you again when I have a
break. I love you, too."

I let out a huge sigh. I don't think I realized how
worried I had been. Doug and I met when I was a
resident at Duke University Hospital and he was a
general surgery resident. We both were hired at
Grady Hospital in Atlanta where I worked until I
decided on research and was eventually hired at the
CDC. Doug remained a surgeon but had moved to
private practice. I was sure that the hospital had
recruited everyone they could to help handle this
pandemic—medical facilities were stretched to the
limit and there appeared no end in sight. Hopefully,
my research could shed some light on what was
happening on Martin's Island. I realized that I hadn't
checked on the packaged sponges that David and I
had collected during the day. I went into the exam
room and found Rudolfo sleeping. David wasn't in
the room, so I quietly opened the cooler and looked
at the baggies waiting for my appraisal. I relaxed a
bit and turned to leave to find Rudolfo awake and
looking at me.

“I'm so sorry—I didn't mean to wake you. How are
you feeling?”

Rudolfo raised his eyebrows. "Who are you?"

"I'm Dr. Albright. I am here doing some research. I
helped Dr. Turner today with his patients. How are
you doing?" I walked over to Rudolfo and took hold
of his wrist to take his pulse.

He laid his head back down on the table and slowly
shook his head. "I'm okay. A headache is all."

"I'm not surprised. That's quite a bump on your
head. I'll get Dr. Turner and see if he wants to give
you anything for that headache." I noted his pulse
and left the room to find David sitting next to Essie
in the waiting room. "Your patient is awake. Says he
has a headache."

David nodded and squeezed Essie's arm as he stood
up. "I'll see what I can do. Thanks for checking on
him."

The next morning the sun was bright, no clouds in
the sky and the wind was slight. If we hadn't worked
through the bedlam the night before, I wouldn't
have known anything bad had happened. I walked
into the waiting room to find Bella at the counter
pouring a cup of coffee.

"Good morning, Dr. Albright. How did you sleep?"
Bella held out the cup.

“Thank you. I slept well. Please call me Alicia." I
took a sip of the hot solution. "Mmmm. This is so
good.”

"Dr. Turner isn't in yet," said Bella. "He stayed with
Rudolfo most of the night, so he'll be coming in later
unless you need him."

“Oh, that’s fine. How is our patient this morning?”

“He's gone home, or at least I assume so. He wasn't
here when I came in.”

That was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think David
would release him in the middle of the night. I
walked down the hall to the exam room to find Bella
was right—Rudolfo was gone. As I stood there, I
decided that since David wasn't coming in until
later, I would go ahead and start my analysis of the
bloody sponges. I was pleased to learn that the
clinic had the capability of blood analysis. That
would make the process quicker and more efficient.
The hematology analyzer was located in a small,
windowless closet next to the exam room and with
any luck, I should have results of each sample
within twenty minutes each. With laptop in hand, I
began my review of the blood samples we had taken
during the crisis.

I was waiting for the results of my sixth sample
when I heard the back door open and heavy
footsteps in the hallway. As I looked up from my
computer, David leaned into the tiny room. "How’s it
going?"

"I'm only two blood samples away from having some
results. Are you rested from last night?" I stood up
from the stool. "I understand that Rudolfo went
home last night?"

David's face took on a strange look. "What do you
mean?" He rushed to the exam room and threw
open the door. "Where is Rudolfo?" He ran to the
waiting room and questioned Bella.

I caught up with David to hear Bella's response: "I
thought you sent him home last night. He wasn't
here when I came in.”

David scratched his head. "I most certainly did not."
He walked to the front door and stood there looking
out to the ocean. "It must have been Essie. Rudolfo
kept saying he didn't want to stay, so I guess she
helped him home." David hurried into his office and
came out with his bag. "I'm going to Essie's and see
if he's there. I'd like to check on him at least." With
that, David was banging out the front door and the
sound of his car engine shortly followed.

I went back to the analyzer and finished my
samples. I took my data and sat down at my desk to
do some research. Within an hour I had my results.
Whether the patient was young or old or in
between, my eight-person sample showed the same
thing: everyone had antigens against the VR1-Virus.
How could that be? Usually, immunity is created
after you've had a virus and survived or had a
vaccine. There was no vaccine and according to all
of David's medical records, no one tested positive
for the VR1-Virus on the island except the old man—
who subsequently died. So, this just didn't make any
sense. Granted, eight people isn't a very big
sampling, but without exception, they all had the
immunity. To be thorough I would need more
samples; then I could make a more accurate
hypothesis. How would I get others to give me blood
samples? I was ruminating over this problem when I
heard a car engine and then the front door bang
open again.

"He wasn't there!" shouted David.

I came out of my room. "What do you mean he's not
there?"

David paced around the waiting area and
gesticulated wildly with his arms. "Essie says she
doesn't know where he is and hasn't seen him since
she left the clinic late last night. Where could he
have gone? Did you hear anything?" He stopped
walking long enough to look directly at me.

“Honestly, I was so tired, I didn't hear anything. I'm
so sorry. What can I do?”

He shook his head and looked at Bella. "I'm headed
into town. Maybe someone knows something." He
looked at me with an inquisitive face.

"I'm coming!" I grabbed my purse and ran out the
door trying to keep up with him.

We spent the afternoon driving from place to place,
but no one had seen Rudolfo or knew anything
about his disappearance. By dinnertime, we decided
to stop and have something to eat. We settled on
dinner at a place next to the demolished café. I was
shocked at how total the destruction was—nothing
left but rubble. I couldn't believe that anyone had
escaped.

David noticed my shock. "The townspeople finished
dismantling the café during the day. The sooner it is
cleaned up, the quicker the owners can rebuild."

I was somewhat relieved that the damage I was
looking at wasn't the result of the wind the previous
night. As we ate dinner, I wasn't sure if it was the
right time to bring up my research results—David
had a missing patient on his mind.

But he gave me an opening. "So, did you have some
time to analyze those samples?"

I was excited to discuss my data with him. "Yes,
actually I managed to get through all eight samples
and found something interesting. Everyone we
treated yesterday has antigens for the VR1-Virus."

David sat back in his chair and raised an eyebrow.
"All of them?"

"I know, queer isn't it?" I wiped my mouth with my
napkin and leaned in closer. "I know that eight
samples isn't a big pool, but everyone! I am thinking
I need to take blood samples from more villagers
and see if my hypothesis is correct."

“We can probably make that happen. You can start
with me and Bella and we'll see who else might
volunteer.”

"Perfect." I was excited now and hopeful that we
would get to the bottom of this mystery and find a
vaccine for the VR1-Virus.

"Well, maybe we can solve your mystery. Looks like
mine is still out there somewhere." David shook his
head and looked at his phone.

“Any word?”

"No." David shrugged his shoulders and let out a
sigh. "I think it's time to head back to the clinic.
Nowhere else to search and it will be dark shortly."

The next morning, I took blood samples from David
and Bella as promised. Bella was tasked with putting
out the word in the village to see if we could get
volunteers to come to the clinic. I analyzed the
blood samples and found they both had the VR1-
Virus immunity marker. When I told them, they
seemed surprised, but pleased. I quizzed them
about the possibility of having had the virus and
both were one hundred percent sure they had not
been exposed or had the virus. This was getting
more mysterious by the vial.

By the end of the day, I had five more volunteers
give blood with the same results. I was sure that it
wouldn't matter how many came forward, the tests
would confirm the same thing—immunity to the VR1-
Virus. I was certain of that finding, but still no closer
to figuring out how that came about, although for
the CDC it wouldn't matter—with these blood
samples, a vaccine could be developed and in time
the pandemic could be controlled. But I knew that if
I could determine how these people had the
immunity, we could prevent millions of deaths
worldwide. I decided to do some old fashioned
sleuthing.

My next day on Martin's Island found me back
wandering the village. I started asking questions
about the old man who had contracted the virus and
the people he lived with and worked with. It seemed
that every time I spoke with someone about the old
man—Joseph—Essie's name came up. It was clear
that Essie was a central fixture here on the island. I
realized that I needed to have a conversation with
her about Joseph and the virus.

It was near the end of the day when I approached
the small wooden frame house that belonged to
Essie. I walked up to the front door and as I lifted
my hand to knock, the door opened. Essie stood
there in a flowered apron, a wooden spoon in her
hand. "Essie! It's so good to see you," I said.

Essie moved back and indicated I should come in.
The small front room was painted turquoise and had
brightly colored furniture. A rocking chair sat in the
corner with a green cushion on the seat and back. I
guessed this was Essie's seat. The house smelled of
cinnamon and cloves and made my mouth water as
I imagined the cookies or pie baking in the oven.
Essie smiled. "The cookies will be ready soon."

I sat on an overstuffed yellow chair that faced the
front window and Essie sat in the rocking chair
opposite my chair. "I have found something
interesting happening on Martin's Island,” I said,
“and I think you can help me with the mystery."

Her facial expression didn't change. She leaned
back in her rocker and closed her eyes. "Is this
about your research?"

"Yes. Do you know why I am here?" I was surprised
that she might care why I was here on Martin's
Island.

"I do know why you are here. You want to know why
we don't have the virus that is killing people all over
the world." Essie stood and excused herself. I heard
the oven door open and close and shortly she was
back with a tray of cookies and a tall glass of cold
water.

"Thank you." I sunk my teeth into the warm, gooey
confection and let out a sigh.

Essie began to rock slowly. “There is a custom in my
country that keeps us safe from the outside world.”
She closed her eyes and started humming a soft
tune, much like a child's lullaby.

"Can you tell me about that custom?" I wasn't
entirely sure this kind of information would be
helpful in my scientific report, but I was curious
about what she might tell me.

"You will come back tomorrow and see for yourself.
After dark, we will meet in my backyard." Essie
stopped rocking and looked at me directly. "You
won't tell anyone else and will come by yourself."

I understood her tone and nodded. I stood up and
moved toward the door. "I will be back tomorrow,
after dark and alone."

When I got back to the clinic, I didn't know what to
think about what had just happened, but I had a job
to do and sat at my desk to complete that task. I
sent off several emails about my findings. In the
morning I would prepare my cooler for transport of
the blood samples back to the CDC for development
of vaccines. I completed what I needed to do for the
eventual termination of the pandemic, but my
curiosity about how this immunity came about was
not satisfied. I hoped tomorrow night would answer
that mystery.

With my test samples safely packed and in transit to
the CDC the next morning, I called Doug. To my
surprise, he answered the phone on the second
ring. "I’m so happy to finally talk with you,” I said.
“How are you? What is happening at home?" I
realized that I hadn't been keeping up with the news.

"The pandemic is still raging and we’re all hands on
deck, but I'm doing fine." He sounded tired, his
voice strained.

"No symptoms?" I worried about all our medical
people on the front lines of the pandemic.

"No, no symptoms. The government has done a
great job getting us protective gear, so we're being
extra careful and hopeful. How is your research
going? Any good news?"

“Oh, Doug. I sent blood vials today and I think you'll
see a vaccine coming sooner than we thought. It's
very good news here.”

"Good news, indeed. When are you coming home?"
He sounded eager.

"I should be flying out of here in the next day or
two. I have a little more research to do and I’m
hopeful that I’ll have some more specific information
regarding the virus by the end of today." I wasn't
sure if I should push how he was feeling about our
relationship.

Doug's voice was soft and quiet. "Hurry home, I
miss you."

I paused and held my breath. My heart rate sped up
hearing those words. "I miss you, too. I’ll let you
know when I'm leaving. Be vigilant."

When we disconnected, it was the first time in
weeks that I felt hopeful about our relationship. I
would hurry home once my questions were
answered.

I decided to have dinner in the village to be closer
to Essie's house. As the sun began to set over the
ocean, I paid my bill and began walking. My heart
rate accelerated with each step and the humidity
pressed against my skin. As I approached Essie's I
could see lights behind the house. The walkway in
front of the house was dark, so I followed the lights
along the side. I could hear music and drumming
and voices. I came around the back of the house
and stopped at the scene that unfolded in front of
me.

The backyard was a flat area bordered on all sides
by tall palm trees and lush bushes. People stood
around the perimeter of the yard talking in hushed
voices. I spotted Essie in a metallic silver dress in
front of a fire pit. It appeared that the fire was
dying, but the charred area made it apparent that it
had been larger and probably very hot when first lit.
A wooden spit perched over the fire and the smell of
roasting meat floated in the humid air. Essie lifted
her arms and began chanting. Those in attendance
joined in. I couldn't make out the language of the
chant, but the melody was enticing and I found
myself humming. At the end of the chant, everyone
grew quiet and stood motionless for a minute. I
wasn't sure what I should do at this point. I didn’t
think Essie had noticed me and it seemed like I was
intruding on a very special, almost spiritual moment.

Essie turned toward me and held out her hands.
"Come Dr. Albright. Be our first recipient. Rudolfo
would be pleased to feed your soul and body." She
handed me a cup filled with a thick red liquid.

When I put the cup to my nose, I recognized the
smell of blood. I recoiled and looked at Essie. “Is
this what you do with all your dead?”

Essie’s eyes sparkled. “But, of course.”

I handed the cup back to her and looked wildly
around at the people in the yard. David and Bella
were there standing side by side. I didn’t know what
to do at this point, so I stumbled away from the fire
and when I reached the end of the house I turned
and ran toward the front. I felt his presence before I
heard his voice.

“Dr. Albright! Wait!”

I had nowhere to go that he couldn’t find me, so I
stopped and turned toward him. “David? What is
going on?”

He came up closer and stood quietly for a moment
while I caught my breath. “Let’s go back to the clinic
where we can talk.”

“Talk? What is there to talk about? Was that
Rudolfo? What happened, did they kill him to eat
him?” I felt my stomach doing flip flops and I
wondered how long it would be until I vomited.

“No! Of course not. Essie finally told me that Rudolfo
stumbled home and fell dead on the floor when she
opened the door. I don't know why she didn't tell me
right away. Needing privacy in her grief, perhaps.”

That, at least, was a relief. “And then they eat him?
Who does that?”

David’s smile was cautious. “I felt the same way you
do when I first learned of this custom. But this is
their ancient way of honoring the dead and keeping
them alive. It’s been going on for thousands of
years.”

I couldn’t believe that this man of science was trying
to justify what I had just witnessed. “Just because it
has gone on for a long time doesn’t make it right!” I
felt a little less wobbly and turned to walk back to
the clinic. David didn’t try to talk to me anymore,
but he did walk quietly at my side for our journey
back.

As I walked I tried to process all that I had learned
that evening. I was relieved that no one had killed
poor Rudolfo, but the eating of human flesh and
drinking the blood was still incredibly upsetting.
Then another thought came to mind. “David, do you
think they drank the blood of the old man who had
the virus?”

“Yes, I know for a fact that they did. I have been
present at each ceremony to document what I’ve
learned and make sure of death before
preparations.”

“You know, of course, that it’s impossible to pass on
the antigens by drinking the blood. The acid in the
stomach would destroy the blood’s capacity to do
that.”

“That is what science says. But how do you explain
what has happened here? One of the reasons I
agreed to have you come and I asked Essie to
include you tonight was so you could see what
happens and maybe make some sense of it.” David
looked very earnest and serious.

“This is something I will have to consider,” I said.
“Right now, I think I need to be alone to process
everything.”

“I understand. It’s a lot to take in.” David held the
clinic door open for me. “We can talk in the
morning.”

I couldn’t even begin to think about sleep. I paced
my room and sat at the computer trying to make
sense of it all. Nothing I read came to the conclusion
the evidence offered me. But how could I argue with
the results I was seeing? And how could I ever
explain this to the CDC or any other medical
association without sounding ridiculous?

At some point I must have fallen asleep because I
heard Bella humming in the waiting room and coffee
percolating. I sat up and wiped my eyes. I heard the
back door open and footsteps in the hall. I walked to
my door to see David coming slowly toward me.

“Didn’t get much sleep I take it?”

“How could I?” I tried to smooth my hair and
realized that I looked a mess. “I’ll freshen up and
then maybe we can talk?”

“Sounds good.”

In David’s office I again relayed my confusion and
doubt about the antigen transfer. “Everything I have
learned, studied, and read contradicts what is
happening here. I don’t even know what to do next.”
I stood up and paced the room feeling like a caged
animal.

David’s voice was gentle and somewhat reassuring.
“I know," he began. "I’ve been where you are, but
you and I both can’t deny what has happened here.”
He went to the small refrigerator in the corner,
pulled out a vial and held it up. “I saved this for you.
Thought maybe you’d want to do an experiment.”

I flinched at the knowledge of what was in the vial.
“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“If I take your blood now and there are no antigens
and then you drink this and retest you can see what
happens. That might just satisfy your hypothesis. At
first I thought it was something special in the
islander’s DNA that might have made this possible,
so I tried it and you know the result.”

I looked at David and saw he was confident that I
would have the same conclusion. I had to admit that
it was the only way to find out for sure. I nodded
and sat down next to his desk. He took out a
tourniquet and needle and prepared to take the
blood sample.

I ran the sample and as expected, found no antigens
in my blood for the VR1-Virus. I went to David’s
office. “So how long after you drank the blood did
you wait to retest?”

“Ceremonies always take place at night, so I ran the
test the following day.”

“Okay, let me have the vial.”

David retrieved the vial and handed it to me. I tried
not to think about what I was doing as I downed the
blood and swallowed before I could have second
thoughts. My mouth was coated with the sticky
solution and I ran to get a glass of water to wash it
away. David was smiling at me when I returned to
his office. “It takes some getting used to, I know,
but you’ll have your answer tomorrow.”

The clinic was busier than usual that afternoon.
Several patients came in to have their dressings
cleaned and changed and talk with David about
what had happened to Rudolfo. Richardo,
accompanied by his father, brought a plate of fruit
for me late in the afternoon. I gave the little boy a
hug and reassured his father that he would be just
fine. It was nice to take my mind off of last night’s
events and this morning’s experiment.

After closing, David suggested dinner in town and I
agreed. We walked the mile to the village in silence
and found an outside table where we both were
pleased to see construction had already begun on
the demolished café’s site.

I spoke with Doug after I returned from dinner and
the virus was still the only topic of conversation. I
grappled with telling him about the events of the
last two days, but decided that he wouldn’t believe
me, or if he did, his opinion of my experiment might
derail our newfound commitment. I would wait until
I knew the results and even then, I might not tell
anyone. What would people say? What would
happen to the villagers? What might happen to Dr.
David Turner? I hadn’t stopped to think through all
the ramifications. I was beginning to realize that
whatever I decided would have consequences—
some could be severe.

In the morning David took my blood sample and I
put it through the analyzer, confident of what I
would find. The antigens were there. David
appeared in the doorway as I read the printed
results.

“Well?’

“Just as you and I thought—positive. I can’t begin to
explain this and I’m not sure what I should do with
this knowledge.”

“What do you think you should do?” David stood at
attention and I could see concern in his eyes.

“I’ve been thinking about the consequences for you,
for the island, for humanity, and for me if this
knowledge were to be revealed.” I looked down at
the paper I was holding.

“And what have you decided?”

I lifted the paper in both hands and tore it into
pieces. David’s eyes met mine and I could feel the
relief. “I don’t know that I will be the only medical
researcher to visit this island, but I will not be the
one who divulges this cultural practice and its
results.”

With that David smiled and walked down the hall to
his office. I went to my room and began packing my
bags. I would deal with this on my own and perhaps
one day find a way to research the results without
giving away the details. But for now, a vaccine was
being created and I had done my job.


Candi Lavender is a retired social studies teacher and yoga
teacher. She became interested in writing in high school but only
started taking formal creative writing classes at Salem College
about two years ago. Before her first place win at Gemini, she was
awarded first place in the Senior Literary Arts Festival Contest in
May 2020. Lavender lives in Winston-Salem, NC with her husband
and enjoys spending time with her family and four grandchildren.
She invites you to visit her website:
www.lavenderwords.com.
THE CURE
by Candi Lavender
SEPTEMBER 2020
SHORT STORY
CONTEST 2020
First Prize
$1,000 Award
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