Mummies, Nostradamus, and Ebola

November 29, 2012 | Comments: 1 Comment

Categories: Childhood, Obsession

I was a strange kid, fascinated by a set of kind of morbid subjects-Egyptian death practices, Nostradamus, ebola-that often interfered with my ability to sleep. I was probably seven, for example, when I found myself lying in bed at night terrified that ancient Egyptians were going to creep into my room and mummify me. I was particularly concerned about the part where they would stick a hook up one of my nostrils to stir my brain around and then drain it out of my nose. I read about that in a book.

I learned about Nostradamus a couple years later, on a network television special. Apparently this man with a beard and robes had predicted pretty much everything in history, and it wasn’t looking good for us. There were lots of roiling clouds in this special, as well as a generalized sense of doom that probably didn’t faze anyone over the age of twelve.

Ebola came a few years after that. I had look for newspaper articles to write about for the “current events” part of my social studies grade, which is how I read about a relatively large ebola outbreak in what was still Zaire. I think it was the hemmorhaging that got me. That, or the small pockets of blood that would form beneath the skin of a victim. I used to know everything about ebola, read every book I could convince my mom to check out of the library for me, could even recite from memory all the dates of outbreaks and the percentage of people who’d died and how scientists thought the virus was transmitted (direct contact with infected bodily fluids). I was giddily horrified.

Imagine my guilty delight, then, when I recently read that researchers at the University of Manitoba had found evidence for the interspecies airborne transmission of ebola-like something out of a horror movie. Apparently four macaques contracted Zaire Ebola after being allowed to live in the same space, but never touch, infected piglets. “The evidence that the virus got from a pig to a monkey through a respiratory route is good,” said Glenn Marsh, a molecular virologist uninvolved with the study, in the Science News article I read.

In honor of this discovery, here’s a play about ebola I wrote in grad school.  This one goes out to the students in my science writing class.

HALI sits on the floor, leaning with her back up against an oversized brass bed-the only thing in the room. She is balancing Laurie Garrett’s book The Coming Plague on her lap. The pages of the book are projected on the wall behind her; we see that she’s reading about ebola.

 

HALI
I wonder what it’s like to be one. A virus, that is.

At this moment the stage goes dark and the bed disappears. All is silent and black except for a light on HALI in the center, thinking, until-

 

EBOLA CHORUS
[singing from offstage]
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

 

HALI
Looks up, startled.

 

EBOLA CHORUS
Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

 

HALI
Jumps to feet.
Hello?

 

EBOLA CHORUS
Starts to stream onto the stage. There are dozens of them, people dressed in red leotards with very tall, floppy, hats that sway and bend in the wind as they run around haphazardly.
Weeeeeeeeee don’t care
who you are.
We will get you
anyway!

 

HALI
Um?

VOICE OF GOD
From above.
Ebola
my dear
is a nasty thing.
You shouldn’t mess
with nature
I always say
you humans always do.

 

HALI
I don’t want a mess, I’m only 12. I just want to know how something so small can be so angry?

 

VOICE OF GOD
The process
is simple
stop trying
to make it
like you:
to a cell
a virus is
a worthy opponent.

 

CELL CHORUS
Wearing blue leotards, they begin to file onto stage in straight line, holding hands and forming a circle in the center. When settled, they look around and see the ebola viruses hiding in the corners of the stage.
Oh
no!

 

EBOLA CHORUS
Several members of the EBOLA CHORUS start to creep up towards the CELL CHORUS, wearing menacing looks on their faces and wiggling their hands like monsters. The rest of them sing:
Oh
yes!

 

VOICE OF GOD
After attaching to the surface of the cell, the virus enters it through endocytosis-

 

HALI
A what?

 

CELL CHORUS
A trick!
A trick!

The members of the EBOLA CHORUS that were behaving like monsters crash into the circle that the CELL CHORUS has created. As a result a few members of the circle move to form a smaller circle that extends toward the center of the cell, allowing the ebola virus to occupy space that is both within and without the cell.

 

EBOLA CHORUS
We’re not alive
it’s not our fault.

 

VOICE OF GOD
Then, the outside of the virus and the cell membrane fuse, releasing the nucleocapsid into the cell.

 

HALI
The what?

 

EBOLA CHORUS
-the core of us!

A member of the EBOLA CHORUS is allowed past the blue line of the CELL CHORUS.

 

CELL CHORUS
Perimeter compromised!
The lights go off.
Emergency!
Lights up.

 

VOICE OF GOD
After that, the virus forces the cell to replicate the proteins that make up its genes, thus creating many new viruses.
While the lights were out the extra members of the EBOLA CHORUS have packed themselves into the space inside of the CELL CHORUS circle. They begin jumping up and down and pushing at the circle.

 

EBOLA CHORUS
Not alive! Not alive!
We just want
to use you.

 

HALI

But if you’re not alive, why do you want to make more of yourselves?

Rushes at the CELL CHORUS as if trying to save it. She starts beating at the blue circle, trying to get to the viruses. After a few moments of this, she succeeds, but cannot do anything in the face of the dozens and dozens of red-clad members of the EBOLA CHORUS stampeding past her to fill the stage.

 

VOICE OF GOD
Do not
ask why!

The lights flicker and for a second go off. When they come back on, there are small groups all over the stage: single members of the blue CELL CHORUS are being attacked by members of the EBOLA CHORUS. Sometimes punches swing; several forms of martial arts can be seen.

 

HALI
But-

 

VOICE OF GOD
You shouldn’t mess with nature
I always say
you humans always do.

The lights go off.

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One Response to “Mummies, Nostradamus, and Ebola”

  1. Emily "puddles" Dornblaser says:

    I am saddened that I am only now finding out about this gem of a play. Most excellent. And totally valid question… if not alive the what fuels the drive to replicate? Technically since all life is dependent on DNA replication, and virus’s employ the most basic of transcriptive processes are we all descendants from a common virus? wait, is all of it dependent on DNA replication… jesus its been a while since I took bio.

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