The Pfeltzer Bug

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A new pandemic lies just over the horizon and Emile Santiago doesn't realize he has the virus steadily spreading through Mexico and the world. Ignorant, he tries to point out the flaws in the pharmaceutical plant he managers. But it's a little too late.

Submitted: February 09, 2020

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 09, 2020



When the Pfeltzer pharmaceutical plant opened, Emile Santiago was pleased he had been chosen to become its new operations manager. It provided needed jobs for the floundering Mexican economy, and everyone flocked to become an employee to produce Ansant, Pfeltzer's new anti-depressant drug. Emile had chosen carefully, and for a year and a half, the plant lived up to its expectations.

But the plant had significant problems. Pfeltzer owned the facility but had done little toward improvements over the years. The structure had been up for sale, but no buyers had stepped forward. It was only due to Ansant that Pfeltzer reopened the facility to produce their blockbuster latest drug in short notice. Plans were in the works to construct a new plant in Dallas, but six months before that facility was fully operational.

One look at its exterior was enough to notice the crumbling facade, the peeling paint, and the gaps in the mortar between the bricks.

Rust was visible between the girders that held up the massive roof. The building would have collapsed some time ago. But hot and dry weather prevented moisture rot. The windowpanes had been replaced but had collected dust from the frequent dust storms that frequented the area. They were opened to allow for better ventilation as the building's system was unreliable. With an unfit ventilation system and the heat of full summer, the company staff had to budget for cook bottled water. It was something not in Pfeltzer's budget.

Emile had always been dubious about the functionality of the plant. Health inspectors gave the building the green light, but he knew from experience that health and structural engineers could be bought for the right price. Bribery was just another way Pfeltzer, and the whole pharmaceutical industry did business.

He consistently pointed out the flaws, but Pfeltzer was adamant that production could not stop despite the flaws he brought to the table. He had on three occasions flown, along with Manuel Greco, the plant's president, to present complaints. Still, the pharmaceutical giant brushed off the concerns, stating that the plant was safe and approved by the local health authorities. The only assurance they offered was a cleanup once the demand for Ansant had diminished. After all, they repeated, they were providing much-needed jobs for the economy, so he, staff, and employees should be happy. Assurances, however, did not replace action. Sales for Ansant had gone through the roof with no cleanup in sight. The plant was operating round the clock with three shifts, including weekends and holidays.

If any repairs were done, they were shoddy at best.

It was the billions of bucks that filled the pharma coffers that mattered. Manufacturing plants, employees, and customer satisfaction had little impact.

The workers complained about their low wages. Production delays and work-to-rule was a frequent occurrence. As evening approached out came the Corona Extra and Dos Equis XX lager. The dirty washrooms had become a depository for empty beer bottles. .He disliked to enforce rules for sanitation, but that led to worker anger. He was responsible for the plant, nothing more than a puppet for the big heads at headquarters. Three 8 hour shifts weren't enough to meet Pfeltzer's quota.

The company promised to address the problem, but they expected him to be the employees' slave driver.

A flu bug had hit Mexico particularly hard and was spreading throughout the country. Where it had its beginnings was still a mystery, though fingers pointed toward the very plant Emile was trying to run. Denials and finger-pointing blamed Manuel, the president, and health inspectors. No government health agency was prepared to admit they had opened the plant without a thorough investigation, nor had accepted bribes under the table. Several employees called in sick daily. It forced him to find replacement workers from a list of names he kept on file.

Lately, absenteeism had been getting worse.

Emile stared at the white-washed ceiling to make sense of his predicament. If there was anything he was thankful for was that it was Frida. He was scheduled for a weekend off. He needed the rest as the bug had affected him. Manuel Greco insisted he take the weekend off. He had planned another trip to Dallas to argue with the

company president, James Worthington, in the hope that his complaints would reach a sympathetic ear.

Emile was dubious about the outcome.

This morning he felt listless. He had little e energy to get out of bed. His throat felt scratchy from a dry cough that had kept him awake through the night. Friday mornings were reserved for a stint at the gym. He had no desire to work out this morning.

The digits of his clock on the bedstand registered six, half past the hour when he usually rose up.

He was a responsible man, dedicated to his work. It seemed to him the wealthy executives at Pfeltzer were more interested in living wealthy. James Worthington was known to enjoy a lavish lifestyle with a three million dollar salary.

Another workday.

A twenty-minute trip to the manufacturing plant seemed a distant dream. The minutes ticked by while he lay frozen under the covers. He felt he needed an anti-depressant for himself, but he knew enough of the chemical

composition of many anti-depressant drugs. That knowledge kept him from reaching out for any chemical created poisons.

He had a bug.

A sore throat and an upset stomach.

Deaths had occurred, but no experts were willing to link them to what they called the Nora virus or the Mexican flu. Some cases had appeared in Detroit and the slums of Seattle.

Frayed nerves and tempers were a regular occurrence, even in the streets of respectable Mexico City.

No vaccine had been discovered.

The conditions at his plant provided the right breeding ground for a new virus. Clinics and hospitals were on full alert to deal with this new threat. New cases kept showing up. Nora was spreading., a possible pandemic as great as the Black Death.

Emile had taken a flu shot, but it hadn't worked. Every worker was required to take them, but they still called in sick.

The press was on a tear to prevent panic with assurances that the latest bug was only temporary and would pass. The medics and immunologists were hard at work to solve the newest bug. Next to the spread of the virus, they worked far too slow.

Besides a new plant, Pfeltzer hoped to get a facility operating on Aquario Prime, a sister world to Earth. It had expected to reach a deal a year earlier, but plans had fallen through. The government of a young new world wasn't quick to approve the manufacture of chemically created drugs. That made sense for Emile. They were cautious. They wanted to avoid the mistakes of Earth's past that had brought on numerous epidemics and warfare.

Pfeltzer saw a ready market at Aquario Prime for its many pharmaceuticals. Profit was the name of the game, not the customer's health. They had not gained a foothold, not unless they could produce drugs and vaccines that actually cured a disease.

Plant cleanliness was not high on the management of the drug company he worked for.

Emile sighed. Beside him, Alicia, stirred, her head ducked beneath the blankets. The ravages of time had taken a toll on the beauty she once was when they both made their marital vows. It was to be expected, but he had accepted the fact. Nothing ever lasts, least of all well- paying jobs.

He let a foot dangle at the edge of the bed in preparation for rising, but the effort just to move his leg felt such a chore. He found that his body wouldn't stir at his command. For a moment, panic set in. Perhaps he had become paralyzed. The thought forced him to prove that assumption. He managed, after a struggle, to rise to a sitting posture. Still, his back protested with an ache.

Blankets aside, he swung his body to the edge of his bed.

No matter how he felt, the day was important. He needed to have a heart-to-heart talk with Manuel to discuss and make final changes to the 16-page report of grievances to be presented to the bigwigs at Pfeltzer headquarters. He would brief Ramon Salazar on how to handle the plant over the weekend while he was recuperating.

Even though Pfeltzer had no concerns, it was common knowledge that health inspectors often overlooked problems if enough of a bribe was offered. He, Manuel and Ramon were prepared to spend a few dollars to pay for an independent inspection of the plant. That wasn't something that would please Pfeltzer, especially when an investigation showed up gross negligence. The media would have a field day, and the plant would be forced to close until Pfeltzer made necessary changes. The situation was critical, even if the corporation decided he was no longer needed. Pfeltzer wasn't about to lose billions on drug sales.

If the virus had its beginnings at the plant, no government agency could ignore the problem, no matter how much money the executives threw at it.

He ruffled his hair. Once black, it had turned gray over the years. And his face showed the strain of worry and stress. But he prided himself on doing his job no matter what the circumstances. He had developed a good rapport with Manuel, the p

resident, but even Manuel showed signs of an infection.

Eight more hours of work would feel like a whole week, nevertheless.

His throat burned. He needed a cup of tea with honey and a few lozenges to ease his sore throat.

He stood upon the carpeted floor.

Within seconds he felt the room spinning around him. For a moment, his sight blanked out. He knew he was falling forward, pitching towards the hard surface of the credenza. In a panic, he seized the end of the credenza to maintain balance. He clung to it, forcing his head down to restore circulation. With what strength he could muster, he forced himself backward toward the softness of the bed. Relieved he had avoided a fall, he rested and waited for his eyesight to recover.

He sat what seemed to be hours before the dizziness dissipated.

He had experienced such things before, but this was a new sensation. His action had made his stomach roil.

Behind him, Alicia stirred in her sleep and turned to face him. "Pedro," she replied, using his pet name. "You alright?"

“No,” he said. “Damned flu bug!”

"So they say. It's more than the flu, Pedro. Nothing compares to it. They're not telling us the whole truth."

Emile nodded. “This isn't a flu bug. It's a damned epidemic,”

“Couldn't get up?”

“Got dizzy. Lost my bearings. Nearly cracked my head open on the credenza.”

"Happened to me already," she replied. "Got off the throne. Rom spun. Didn't know where I was. Next thing I was puking the floor."

"Just what my stomach feels like right now," Emile confirmed.

"Best, you don't go to the plant.”

"I'm needed. Wish I didn't have to. I haven't got a choice. We have to go over the report. Manuel's got to convince them things have to change. Too many absenteeisms to ignore it."

"I married you for your devotion. What makes you special to me."

Emile forced a smile. "Thanks. I try to live a moral code."

“Soon as the day's out, come home. Stay in bed. I'll fix you up with lemon tea and chicken soup. Call the doc, too.”

“He's a busy man these days.” Her hand trembled where she touched him. “I'll make the appointment on the way.”

“You're the man, Pedro.”

He gave her a wry smile. "You don't look too great yourself," he remarked.

“I've made my plans to see the doc today. Maybe he's got something to cure this bug. I must have got it from you. But then,” she paused. “We're married. We share everything.”

Emile fazed at the clock. “Six already. I'd be at the gym right now.”

“You wouldn't be pumping iron anyway.” She stretched and yawned.

“Money's all that matters. America's got a strong economy, though it's hard to get into stubborn heads at Pfeltzer.”

"Money's all that matters," Alicia agreed. "They're taking advantage of the poor economy so they can pay workers a minimum wage."

"And the company executive grows fat," Emile finished.

Emile knew the pharmaceutical business. The cost of producing drugs was a few dollars, but profit margins often reached 1000%. Drugs brought in billions from an unsuspecting public. Prozac, Lipitor, and others were profitable but not very useful.

“I'm off,” he said and noticed Alicia sleeping.

He rose to his feet, cautious to hang on to the edge of the bed for support. The dizzy spell did not return. Relieved, he took his first steps toward the washroom.

The light was blazing when he turned it on. He felt he was facing the brightness of the sun as he closed the door behind him.

There was, he decided enough time for a quick shower.

Then again, he wanted the day to go quickly and as smoothly as possible.

His face reflected a haggard look from the mirror. He felt like he'd gone through a marathon the whole night and looked it. A whiskered shadow covered his jaw. Perhaps he could skip the shave. No one was likely to notice...and it was Friday.

Duty made him plug the drain and let a steady stream of water into the sink. The steam fogged the mirror and obliterated what it framed. While the razor was heating, he applied a generous amount of lather.

His razor was about to rake his whiskers when he felt the upheaval in his stomach. A volcano was about to erupt.

Hastily he knelt before the toilet, just in time to let a stream of vomit to exit. The odor of rotten eggs assailed his nostrils. But what more disturbing was what he had puked out.

There was a tint of blood in his vomit. More disturbing were the green flecks that seemed to wriggle through the vomit. It was no virus that he had ever seen before. Green slime with worms.

He sat back on his haunches, trying to make sense of his feelings.

Gut flora was one thing. But what he witnessed was something deadly. A pandemic, he realized, was on the horizon, and the authorities were covering it up.

The flush sent away the green slime.

Time had no meaning when he arose on shaky legs. Strangely he felt better that his insides had cleaned out. Color returned to his face. His haggard look seemed brighter, more refined. He flexed the fingers of his hand, shrugged, and felt flexibility return.

Flecks of green sprinkled the foam of the shaving cream. He took his razor and scratched away the evidence of whiskers and the strange green flakes, then gave his face a thorough wash.

It wasn't the food Alicia prepared. The bug had no origin in her preparation. What he had came from a different source.

The day was bright with sunshine streaming through the early hour brought sunshine. The lace curtains seemed to glow, bathed in their own light. He dressed hastily. He had wasted time enough to forget about breakfast. A glass of orange juice and a packet of throat lozenges in his pocket, and he was out the door after a last inspection of his features in the bathroom mirror.

He accomplished what he set out to do., though not enthusiastically. He made his appointment to visit the family physician for the following Monday. Bouts of nausea still attacked him. He had to stop to orient himself and wait until normalcy returned. He felt disorganized. Even from his vantage point of his second-floor office overlooking the production lines, he only saw stick figures working the floor below, moving about without sense. The employees worked listlessly, their eyes focused on the end of their shifts.

Reports crossed his desk. Some workers came to air a grievance, but he hardly paid them any attention.

"Do you feel sick?"

"Always. I puke a lot. See some green worms."

"Greenstuff. It's the bug. I've got it too."

The employee seemed surprised."I'm not the only one, then?"

"Not by a long shot."

The next shift arrived while Emile made his trip homeward, relieved the day had passed him by. He drove, but his surroundings didn't seem to make much sense. He felt in a perpetual dream, disconnected. The evening sun appeared unusually bright, almost blinding.

As he drove for the safety of home, he felt himself slipping into a dream state of unreality. He was drifting, his hands on the steering wheel unresponsive to mental commands. The solidity of his car seemed to melt into a panorama of white.

Emile wasn't aware that he'd crossed the medium into the oncoming lane and into the path of a semi-trailer. Before he struck it, he was already dead.





© Copyright 2020 Mario. All rights reserved.

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