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The Darling Angel
The Darling Angel
There’s an old belief on this world that when you are sick with the “Tumbles” and the medics have given up on their useless cures, there is a sad and desperate belief that if you had truly given up all hope, that the Darling Angel might save you. It is, of course, a fairy story born out of desperation and man’s unwillingness to relinquish all hope, to really and truly give up hoping is next to impossible. Hope is that one thing to which we humans cling to most strongly. It is our strongest faith and we hold on to it fiercely even when, in the case of the Tumbles, there is no hope.
The Tumbles, a parasitic disease peculiar to this world, is a horrible way to die. It is a bitter irony that this jewel of a planet, so perfect in every other respect harbors such an awful disease. Devon’s World has been described as Earth’s beautiful sister. The climate is warm and welcoming, fresh water is abundant, the soil is fertile and the indigenous flora and fauna benign. Even the bacteria are generally harmless with the notable exception of Thumbalid Vincennes, a tiny fresh water worm that, if ingested, infects the brains of its hosts and consumes it. It is this brain infection that causes the Tumbles. Once infected, death is certain. Direct infection from drinking contaminated water can be prevented, water can be boiled or filtered, but the worm has other means of entry. Eating an infected animal, crops irrigated with untreated water even swimming can lead to infection. This tiny creature has made life hell for so may of us colonists and, until we find a cure, we cling tightly to our our fantasies and belief in the Darling Angel becomes more and more real.
There are a thousand anecdotal stories. People swear they knew someone who was cured by a mysterious woman, it is always a woman. She is often described as tall and willowy with kind eyes and a shy smile. Sometimes her eyes are brown and filled with sadness; sometimes her eyes are blue and filled with promise. She wears a nurse’s uniform in some stories, a nun’s habit in others. Sometime’s she has dark hair, sometimes blond, but she is always dressed in a uniform of some sort. All these stories of miraculous cures are anecdotal. The sad truth is that there is no real proof of anyone ever being cured. Everyone knows someone who knew someone who either saw the Darling Angel or was cured by her. But when you try and tie these stories to actual events, they melt away.
What usually happens in cases where faith supplants reality, there are individuals more than willing to turn desperation to their own advantage. Desperation usually drives out reason. Enter the charlatan, the faith healer, the cult leader. A small industry has sprung up selling everything from candles to prayer books, amulets to relics. Fortunes have been made on the backs of the poor doomed souls. I am not saying it is wrong or bad just irrational. For, if the Darling Angel appears when all hope is gone, then isn’t hoping for her appearance counter productive?
Devon’s World is an agricultural planet far removed from the more glamorous trading centers. Disease and ignorance has kept our population low. Having an incurable. 100% fatal disease has not made our world a popular destination. For the same reason, immigration off world requires a lengthly quarantine period. Several planetary governments will not accept our citizens at all. So Devon’s long range future looks pretty grim. We are basically stuck here, slowly dying and, barring a miracle, doomed.
The Tumbles is a horrible affliction. As the brain is eaten, the patient becomes increasingly violent, making them a danger to themselves and others. Exposure to infected patients is perilous. The infected must be kept in strict isolation, which turns out to be extremely expensive. A bite from an infected person is a sure way to get the disease. All medical personnel must be especially trained and wear special bite proof garments. The full course of the disease lasts about six weeks. The last two weeks being the most painful. The diseased patient gradually loses motor control and falls frequently giving the disease its popular name—The Tumbles.
As an anthropologist, I find this world and how it is coping with its eventual extinction fascinating. The cultural response alone is worthy of a half a dozen PHD’s. The myth of the Darling Angel is a prime example. Not since the dark ages on a long ago Earth where the Bubonic Plague left millions dead has a population faced such misfortune with nothing more than ignorance and superstition. Is it any wonder The myth of the Darling Angel has taken hold. We are basically superstitious savages trying to find our way in a universe we can never hope to understand. All our vaunted technology and civilization is but the thinnest veneer. Scratch the surface and we are exposed to what we are—frightened animals rendered helpless by a tiny worm.
Even with all this world’s promise and potential, the offer of free land and bountiful tax incentives, immigration is near zero and emigration is stalled. Epidemiologists put the death toll at one in 500 which is higher than our replacement rate so every year our population shrinks by one or two percent. Maybe we’ll find a cure someday and things will turn around. Maybe we’ll all lose hope and the Darling Angel will come and save us. Maybe...
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micheledutcher - Remember to send in your humor scifi/fantasy stories to email@example.com for a chance to win $100/$50/25 dollars (1st, 2nd, 3rd prizes) Winners in June's issue.
micheledutcher - The Tumbles disease sounds like a mixture of zombies and cancer. It's a nice way to examine the two diseases from a distance, since zombie-ism is so overdone and everyone knows someone who has died from or is in the process of recovery from cancer. People turning to religion is nothing new - especially in times of hopelessness and disease...so to view a religion's birth from turmoil would be interesting as well. Thanks for letting us read your story, as always.
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