Compatible

            I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing this last week, but not nonfiction. I had meant to share occasional excerpts of my other work, and it just occurred to me that I have yet to really do it.

            So for today’s post, I thought I’d provide a bit from the beginning of the book I’m currently writing:

~

The line was moving along fairly quickly, but Patrick wasn’t in any hurry to get back to English class, where reviewing grammar rules for the umpteenth time made him want to tear his face off.

But standing in line for a mysterious medical exam, with no one to talk to and nothing to do was pretty boring as well—and it made him nervous.

Still better than grammar, though.

“I think I heard somewhere they’re looking for some kind of virus,” a classmate said to his friend in front of Patrick. “I wonder if it’s really contagious.”

Another student exited the locker room ahead, where the line of highschoolers waited to be screened. The girls were lined up at the other locker room across the gym.

“Hey,” the student behind Patrick caught the newly liberated teenager’s attention. “Did it hurt?”

“Nah,” the latter responded. “They just took some blood.”

“Did you have it?”

“Nope. All clear.”

“Mr. Nielson, get back to class please,” the teacher overseeing the line ordered.

The student complied, leaving Patrick to continue listening to the general murmur, his dark, curly-haired head just one of the many in the thread of teenagers waiting to be examined. The school administration had been pulling students out in sections all morning.

What did they do if someone tested positive? Was it something to be worried about? None of the faculty seemed particularly knowledgeable about what was going on either.

“Negative or positive?” Patrick’s classmate asked as yet another student emerged from the locker room.

“Negative,” he responded, relieved.

Maybe they wouldn’t find what they were looking for.

After a minute, the student preceding Patrick returned.

“Negative,” he sighed.

Patrick would probably be negative too. But he was still somewhat ill at ease as he responded to the attendant’s disinterested, “Next!”

The locker room was partitioned into three sections with portable white curtains, and Patrick found the station to the far left empty.

“Go ahead and sit down,” the man instructed, reloading a clear cartridge into a small white device with a 90 degree bend at the top. Patrick complied quickly.

“Give me your finger,” the man continued briskly. “It’s just a finger prick. Shouldn’t hurt too much.”

“What are you looking for?” the words had escaped Patrick’s mouth before he could think better of it. He extended his hand, his face burning.

“Don’t ask questions, kid,” the man replied, steadying Patrick’s hand and fitting the device onto his index finger. With a modest release of air, the device detonated and bit into Patrick’s skin.

Then the attendant lost attention for him as he waited for the device to give the verdict.

It began to beep repeatedly, like the fretful chirping of a bird. The man’s eyebrows furrowed as he examined the device in what Patrick guessed was incredulity.

“What does that mean?” Patrick asked anxiously.

“Hold on a second,” the attendant said, pulling out the cartridge and clicking in a new one. “It could have just malfunctioned. Give me your hand again.”

Patrick obeyed, too uneasy to really worry about the discomfort of an extra finger prick. The device discharged, and the man waited. The same chirping bubbled up from the device. The attendant loaded another cartridge.

“Next!” he called.

Patrick stood up slowly.

“Stay in here for a minute,” the man instructed. “I just want to see something to make absolutely sure. I hope you don’t mind me pricking your finger one last time.”

“No, that’s fine,” Patrick murmured.

The next student entered, and the man ran through the same process with him, except on the first test, the device beeped flatly and flashed a simple red light.

“Negative…thank you. You can go,” the man said. He reloaded the tester and turned to Patrick. “Ok, lend me your hand again.”

The device chirped as urgently as before, and Patrick watched the green light, burning loudly and confidently just to the side of where the red light had appeared.

“Wow…fancy that,” the attendant said, staring at the device. He turned his attention on Patrick. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Patrick Everhart, sir,” Patrick stammered, worried. He had tested positive. Out of everyone, he was the one infected. Of course.

“Well, Mr. Everhart,” the man said, cracking a one-sided smile. “You’re Compatible.”

“Is that bad?” The last thing Patrick’s parents could handle on top of Erin and Lisa’s college loans was medical bills.

“No, it’s not,” the man replied, discharging the cartridge into a separate plastic bag. “Go ahead and return to class. Come back as soon as school lets out for the day and I’ll explain a bit more. For now, we have to get through the rest of the student body to see if there are any more like you.”

As soon as Patrick left the locker room, he could feel the students’ eyes on him.

He returned to English class and quietly found his seat. Testing positive wasn’t bad, apparently—but that didn’t make it good either. Had they even wanted to find someone “Compatible?” As the teacher droned about punctuation, Patrick considered the three bandaged fingers of his left hand. They throbbed softly.

The attendant had taken great pains to make sure it was true.

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