The Pandemic Report

Posted 2 years ago
Kenneth R. McClelland

Category : Fiction & Literature


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When a reporter is sent to investigate a mysterious illness at a military base in Kansas, he unknowingly stumbles upon the origins of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 50 million people around the world, in less than two years' time. Upon returning home from Kansas, he discovers that he's been drafted and is being sent to Europe to fight the Kaiser. However, a tragic accident soon sends him back to the states with a handicap, yet despite his new limitations, he resumes his old job at the newspaper and begins traveling the back roads where he reports on the killer flu that's spreading like a prairie fire across the land. Before the 1918 pandemic was declared to be over, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life were carried to their graves, or burned on the funeral pyres, with some children left to wander the streets with no parent remaining to care for them.

Here is an excerpt from this 314 page book, The Pandemic Report.

"..No sooner had we pulled away from the train station when the Professor twisted around in his seat and turned a crank behind the driver’s seat that raised a window of thick glass between the soldier and us. He then turned to me and said: “One can never have too much privacy where such a thing is concerned. Wouldn’t want to cause a panic you know.”

I imagined that he’d been working around the military for too long, yet I was anxious to hear what he had to say, even if he was a crackpot as I first supposed. He yelled something at the driver through the glass partition to satisfy himself that he couldn’t hear a word we might say, and then he turned his attention back to me and continued.

“It was first discovered about three weeks ago, and it’s caused no small amount of panic I can assure you of that. At first, it was all quite routine you see, but then it quickly escalated into a full-blown quarantine situation.”

“Wait a minute Jenkins, all that because a few guys came down with the flu?”

“That’s Professor Jenkins if you please. While I’m willing to make some allowances because of your age, youthfulness is no excuse for a lack of professional courtesy!”

“My apologies Professor, I assure you that it won’t happen again. Now then, you were saying. About the flu?”

“My word man, didn’t they brief you on anything in Washington?”

My ears perked up when he said that, and I knew in an instant that I was the wrong person in the right place at the perfect time to get a scoop for my newspaper.

“Umm, yes, Washington. I’m still a little unclear on the details and think it best if you filled me in, from your perspective. Oh, and could you start from the beginning and bring me up to the current status, you know, so that I can compare notes with what they told me in D.C.?”

The look on his face was enough to tell me that he expected such things from ‘we Americans.’

“Right then, from the beginning.”

Though agitated, he was cooperative none the less.

“As you are probably aware, operation Night Shade was a project that King George and your President thought best if worked on by both of our governments. It’s very hush-hush you see, top-secret and classified and all that jazz, which is why I take every precaution possible whenever talking about it.

The Germans, as you know, have been doing extensive research, attempting to develop a variety of chemical gases designed to target the nervous systems of our soldiers on the battlefield, while their own troops would be protected by new types of gas masks made specifically for such gases. We know this of course and are taking our own measures to counter such actions, developing our own gasmasks and whatnot.

The problem, however, is that recent intelligence out of Europe suggests that the Germans have been pursuing biological alternatives to their chemical weapons program; ‘germ warfare’ if you please. I don’t have to tell you the kind of trouble that could be. Can you imagine what that could mean to us? Or to anyone really, who dares to try and oppose them.”

I shook my head as if I knew, but to be honest, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. As much as I hated to admit it even to myself, most of what he was telling me went over my head. I’d spent the previous few years simply trying to make it through college, and because of my friends in combat, I hadn’t been following the war in Europe very closely, even after America joined the fight nearly a year earlier. While there were brief occasions when I considered signing up myself, I imagined that they had enough Dough Boys already in the fight, so they didn’t need me tagging along simply to become cannon fodder.

“This single endeavor, should they pull it off, could mean world domination for the Germans. The bloody Kraut’s could rule the world! Imagine that one if you can. They could enter the battlefield wearing masks designed for a specific pathogen, release the biological agent into the air, and everyone who comes into contact with it would succumb to mass bleeding of the internal organs, almost like a full-body hemorrhage.

But wait a moment, it’s not over yet. The field medics and all those who come into contact with the dead soldiers could also contract the illness from any of the victim’s fluids. They could then carry it to others who were not yet infected, sort of like walking time bombs you see. Why, they possibly wouldn’t even display any symptoms until days later after contact. It could cause a death toll of pandemic proportions if it were ever to get out of control, and I don’t think the Germans realize just how dangerous such a thing could be, to their people as well as to our own.”

He stopped speaking and appeared deep in thought about something, so I gave him a few moments before bringing him back.

“Um, Professor? You were saying… about the flu?”

“Hmm? Oh, right then. Sorry about that old bean, not been getting enough rest you know. Now then, where was I? Oh yes… So, we thought it best if we worked together to counter anything the Germans might throw at us. London and Washington both agreed on that one. We’ve been trying everything, as you might well imagine, looking for anything of value towards building a more extensive arsenal of medicines and antidotes, as well as experimenting with new gas mask designs.

Then out of the blue, one of our team members gets notified of some sort of trouble here at Fort Riley, Kansas, where more than a hundred of your boys fell sick all on the same day. On the surface, it was only a minor flu really, but we didn’t want to leave anything to chance you see, because that many men suddenly falling ill on the same day, why, that’s absolutely unheard of.”

All of a sudden it began to get interesting. Mister Jackson never mentioned that so many had suddenly and mysteriously gotten ill, and it was becoming clear to me why he sent me to Kansas. It was finally beginning to smell like a story. As one of my Professors once said to me: ‘If something doesn’t smell right, a good reporter will put a clothespin on his nose and dig into the dung heap to find the story inside.’

“You’d mentioned ‘Pandemic’ Professor?”

“Yes, that’s correct, but of course that’s only speculation on my part you see. Unlike an epidemic that’s confined to a more localized area, a pandemic would be an epidemic that covered the whole of the world, and then, well… will you listen to me going on. I do apologize for my ramblings, Doctor. I’m sure that a man of your background doesn’t need me to tell you anything about pandemics.”

His words startled me and there was a moment of silence before I responded.

“Huh? Oh no, no, of course not, I was just checking to see if I’d heard you correctly.”

What I was wondering was if I’d heard him correctly refer to me as a Doctor. While I thought myself a pretty fair reporter, and more recently a pretty good liar, I’d never considered myself much of an actor, and I was most certainly not a doctor. I realized immediately that I’d have to be careful about what I might say in future conversations once we arrived at the base.

“One of the physicians from Fort Riley called a member of our team to ask his advice after the first twenty or so lads came to the infirmary complaining of coughing, fever, and severe physical distress. He said he was quite certain that it was the flu, only this flu was behaving differently than anything he’d ever encountered before. While he was still speaking on the telephone to our man, he told him there were several dozen additional men now trying to get in through the front door with what appeared to be the same ailment. We of course dispatched a team immediately and have been here ever since the second week. As it stands right now, there have been over 1,100 soldiers stricken with this peculiar illness. It’s most remarkable really.

In the beginning of course, we feared the worse; that perhaps the Germans had attacked us right under our very noses. But things seemed to have calmed down quite a bit since then, and most of the young men have already been released to bed rest in their own quarters after showing signs of improved health. Many of them are still suffering the lingering effects that a normal flu might bring; muscle aches and joint pains for several days to a week afterward, but we simply don’t have the room to house them all while they convalesce.

It would appear that whatever it was that struck them down has pretty much gone away, and at this point, I don’t believe it to be the work of the Germans at all, and if it were, it proved to be quite unsuccessful. Not to throw caution to the wind, however, we’ve decided to maintain tight security measures on the chance that we could be wrong about the Kaisers' involvement. It’s still a rather curious incident, and I’ve alerted London to keep an eye out for similar symptoms as we’ve encountered here. Basically, I’d say that whatever it was, we were very fortunate that it went away on its own.”

“So, the problem is pretty much over then?”

“Well yes, I’d have to say so. The death toll from this incident has been just under 50 men, though it would’ve been much worse had the hospital not taken such quick action to isolate the infected soldiers before they left the confines of the base. Other than those still housed within the infirmary, I believe we can safely say that the malady has run its course. We do feel however that we should take this opportunity to fine-tune how we might handle such a crisis, in the event that next time it’s discovered to be a deliberate act of aggression.”

“Yes, yes of course. I completely agree Professor.”

Jenkins turned around to look ahead of us as we approached the entrance to Fort Riley, at which time he held his security badge up to the window which allowed us to pass through the checkpoint of guards posted at the front gate. He refrained from speaking any further until the car came to a full stop in front of a small building within sight of the laboratory.

“That’s it just up ahead, but we’ll be getting off here for now, and I’ll continue once we’re safely inside.”"

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