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Outbreak of Horses

Scalzi Story

Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title.


Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story (so forget about any editing), with the band name as a title.

Beth walked into the lecture hall, thankful it was still mostly empty. She was nervous about this talk, which was odd for her, she knew. Of course, most of her talks didn’t have the personal element this one did, so, okay, she’s cut herself some slack today. Some. Probably not as much as she should, though.

Behind Beth, Mike lumbered carrying the large flat boxes with the posters that she had finished last week. Jeff was carrying the easels behind him. Beth looked around the room, and back over her shoulder, suddenly completely convinced that her posters were inadequate for the enormous space.

“Did they have to put me in the biggest room?” she asked back to Mike.

“They did, yes,”

Beth stopped walking. She turned around to Mike, who had stopped just as suddenly, but jerked forward as Jeff ran into him from behind. “Oh. Sorry,” Jeff muttered, as he gathered the easel back into his arms.

“What do you mean, yes?” Beth asked Mike.

“Pretty much everyone is interested in your talk, according to the pre-conference survey. This was the only room that comes close to fitting everyone.” He paused to look around. “Not that everyone will fit. Might be tight. Standing room maybe.”

Beth stared at Mike.

Mike shrugged.

“Can I put these down?” Jeff asked?

“Uh, yeah,” Beth said and stepped aside.

Mike and Jeff continued to the front of the room and began setting up the posters. Beth followed, a little more big eyed, and a bit frustrated at her response to the large room. This was exactly the venue she needed to present her work. Her work was solid, though the results were completely bizarre. That she had managed to time her work as well as she had, that she had been in the right place at the right time, that was a bit of luck that happened only once in a lifetime. She was happy it happened to her, even if the end result wasn’t as happy as she’d liked.

A year ago, Beth had been volunteering at the free clinic on the other side of town, when her laboratory focus changed. She had wanted a place away from the academics in their ivory tower, and away from the privileged college kids who didn’t understand hard work, or how many doors opened for them just because they were at the college. She wanted to help people who needed the help most, and the clinic satisfied that want.

Moesha was the first inconsolable kid who came into the clinic crying of horses; her mother unable to figure out why, but more concerned about the fever and chills the child had been having for a couple days. Beth ruled out bacterial infections, diagnosed a viral infection, and gave Moesha’s mom tips on helping making Moesha as comfortable as possible.

When another child had come into the clinic with the same symptoms, including crying for a horse, Beth was amused. It was the first time she had heard a small boy wanting a pony. “A horse,” the crying child corrected her. “I want a horse, not a pony!” before dissolving into uncontrollable sobs.

It had taken Beth months to find isolated cases outside of her district. She had eventually tracked down one case where the child had died of a Takotsubo cardiomyopathy while crying out for a horse. That was when Beth knew she wanted to track this virus: it was something new, another virus influencing behaviour, much as Toxoplasma gondii had been show to do so years ago. This one, though, was very specific and very consistent.

The consistency in the pleas for horses had intrigued Beth. That she could trace this virus’ outbreak by searching for Facebook posts about kids asking for horses, and following up with the parents, had caused her colleagues to hold her in derision hadn’t deterred her from her research. It was a tool none of them could use in their research, but Beth could, and did.

And here she was.

Here, setting up to present her paper on the effects of Toxoplasma Equinus on human behavior.

To the largest audience in her career.

Beth had just managed to calm herself while reviewing her slides for the hundredth time today, when a noise from the back of the auditorium caught her attention. She looked up to see press cameras.

“Oh,” she thought, “Horses.”

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