A Rumor of Sickness

Garfield Palmer stepped off the bus and into history…the most famous man that the human race would never know.

It began with a tickle in the back of his throat, that rumor of sickness you try to ignore and stave off with hot tea and positive thoughts until the inevitable takes firm hold. He’d gone to bed late and gotten up too damned early. But it was Friday and in nine hours he would be on his way home for a very long weekend with plenty of time to rest up and shake the bug he refused to believe he had.

Garfield was a man in denial. And for him the weekend would never come.

He sneezed two and a half times on his way to the eleventh floor. It was that half that doomed the insurance company on three. Elvira Lewis normally took the stairs, but today she’d had her hands full with goodies for Big Jim’s going away party. The whisper of guilt wasn’t the only thing she left the elevator with.

On the way to his desk, Garfield sneezed again.

“Bless you,” said Tom Jenkins as he passed on his way to the airport and vacation for two whole weeks! If he’d been able to access his email from home that morning, things might have turned out differently. Or just taken a little longer to reach the same conclusion.

The next few hours passed without incident, thanks to the deadline that kept Garfield at his desk for most of the morning.

By lunchtime it started to go downhill.

The tickle had become a cough, and Garfield had started to run a fever. Although he tried to blame his sudden warmth on the wonky HVAC in the office.

At 1:37 he lost focus, literally. The text in front of him shifted and swam. No amount of blinking would put it right.

“Coffee,” he mumbled, rose from his chair, and headed for the kitchen.

Garfield lost consciousness just as the coffee finished brewing.

He woke up coughing in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

“Just relax, Mr. Palmer,” the young EMT told him, full of the false confidence of a person new to the job. “We’ll have you fixed up in a jiffy.”

By 4:02 he was dead. Myocardial infarction brought on by acute hypertension. Dr. Jan McCaulley shrugged as she signed off on the death. Palmer’s cold probably hadn’t helped either.

That evening, the third-shift morgue attendant heard a rattling in one of the drawers. If he’d kept walking…well, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Garfield Palmer the man was gone, but his body wasn’t quite done. And his legacy continued. For a few months at any rate. There were survivors, of course, who struggled to keep going. But in fifty years’ time, humanity was but a memory and the world moved on.